Boeing to buy autonomous and electric flight firm Aurora

Boeing hopes to buy Aurora Flight Sciences Corp to advance its ability to develop autonomous, electric-powered and long-flight-duration aircraft for its commercial and military businesses.

The acquisition could help Boeing with a number of projects, including drones produced by its Insitu unit, a new mid-market aircraft that Boeing is considering and efforts to fly prototype pilotless technology next year.

‘The aerospace industry is going to be changing’ and the acquisition positions Boeing strategically ‘for whatever that future may be,’ Boeing Chief Technology Officer Greg Hyslop said on a conference call with reporters.

Earlier this year, the first prototype of the LightningStrike, Darpa’s vertical take-off and landing experimental aircraft project took to the air, and now its future capabilities have been revealed.


 Aurora hopes its plane will: 

Achieve a top sustained flight speed of 300 knots (556 km/h) to 400 knots (741km/h).

Raise aircraft hover efficiency from 60 per cent to at least 75 per cent.

Present a ‘more favourable’ cruise lift-to-drag ratio of at least 10, up from 5-6.

Carry a useful load of at least 40 per cent of the vehicle’s projected gross weight of 10,000-12,000 pounds (4,500-5,444kg).

Perform flight tests in 2018


The radical design combines fixed-wing technology from planes with rotary-wing technology from helicopters. 

It has two large rear wings and two smaller front canards, short wings mounted near the nose of the aircraft. 

The engine would drive 24 ducted fans, nine integrated into each wing and three inside each canard.

Aurora, the firm behind the radical craft, previously told Defence One ‘there’s quite a bit of interest’ in a laser-armed version of the drone, particularly for use in Marine Corps missions.

Aurora Flight Sciences said the subscale version proved the radical theory behind the craft.

The subscale aircraft weighs 325 pounds and is a 20% scale flight model of the full scale demonstrator Aurora will build for Darpa in the next 24 months.

The deal could face regulatory obstacles, but the company hopes to complete the purchase this year, Hyslop said.

Boeing’s move could help Zunum Aero, a Seattle-area company aiming to bring a hybrid-electric regional airliner to market in 2022. Boeing and JetBlue Airways Corp have both made venture capital investments in Zunum.

Boeing will maintain Manassas, Virginia-based Aurora as a separate unit reporting through Boeing’s engineering, test and technology division, which is headed by Hyslop.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Last year, Aurora won a contract for more than $89 million for the vertical take off and landing X-plane.

Aurora has designed, produced and flown more than 30 unmanned air vehicles since its inception and has collaborated with Boeing on the rapid prototyping of innovative aircraft and structural assemblies for both military and commercial applications during the last decade.

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