The U.S. Air Force’s Afwerx program has awarded a Phase II small business technology transfer research and development contract to Transcend Air for work associated with its Vy 400 tiltwing aircraft. The Boston-based company will work with Alabama's Auburn University to develop advanced flight control laws for high-speed flight in the turbine-powered VTOL model.
The contract, announced on June 21, is intended to build on Phase I work conducted with the university last year. It will extend the development of the control law and simplified vehicle operations to allow the Vy 400 to operate in “nap of the earth” mode to avoid detection in hostile territory by flying just above terrain contours. Afwerx is exploring the possible use of new VTOL aircraft for military applications.
The Phase II project will now involve professor Ehsan Taheri and Auburn’s Aero-Astro Computational and Experimental Laboratory. The university’s Vehicle Systems, Dynamics, and Design Laboratory will continue to contribute to the partnership. Both laboratories are part of Auburn’s aerospace engineering department.
According to Transcend, the partners will demonstrate control software using both a simulator and a one-fifth scale model of the five-passenger Vy 400. The company expects the aircraft to offer a range of 450 miles, speeds of more than 400 mph, and per-mile direct operating costs that are one-quarter of those for medium twin helicopters with comparable cabin volumes and payloads. The Pentagon is keen to consider longer-range, higher-speed alternatives to helicopters.
The project will aim to prove that the software reduces pilot workload and enables sustained flight in close proximity to the terrain at speeds two or three times faster than current rotorcraft can deliver. Transcend says this capability will make it possible to rescue stranded military pilots in one-quarter to one-eighth of the time it now takes, potentially almost doubling the number of people who can be rescued.
The company is mainly developing the Vy 400 for regional scheduled flights to connect city centers such as New York and Boston. It intends to certify the aircraft under the FAA’s existing rules for powered lift designs in 2025, and it aims to have a full-scale prototype ready to start flight testing in 2023.
The Vy 400 is powered by a 2,500-shp GE Aviation CT7-8 turboshaft engine, which last year replaced Pratt & Whitney’s PT6A turboprop in the design specifications. The engine powers the two main propellers through a mechanical drivetrain and generates power for all the other systems on board, including the electric tailfan, using all-electric actuation.
In August 2021, Transcend selected helicopter manufacturer Kaman Aerospace Group to build the aircraft. Kaman will use its facility in Jacksonville, Florida, for the assembly line.