The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

U.S. Air Force Considers Vy 400 VTOL Aircraft for Military Support Missions

The U.S. Air Force’s AFWERX program has contracted with Transcend Air to develop its Vy 400 VTOL aircraft for military resupply and casualty evacuation missions. Under a small business technology transfer research and development contract, the Boston-based company will work with Auburn University to develop simplified vehicle operation (SVO) and flight control laws to allow the Vy 400 tiltwing model to operate in “nap of the earth” mode to avoid detection in hostile territory by flying just above terrain contours.

According to Transcend, the Vy 400 will fly at 405 mph, which it says makes the aircraft around two and a half times faster than helicopters currently used for the missions. Working with professor Imon Charkroborty and Auburn’s Vehicle Systems, Dynamics, and Design Laboratory, the company is seeking to develop software to allow the aircraft to fly automatically in “nap of the earth” mode with a non-pilot crew member at the controls.

In July, the project partners are due to present a demonstration of the mission using the laboratory's simulator. "The most important piece is [development of] the enhanced flight control laws, which is where Auburn comes in," Transcend COO Peter Schmidt explained to FutureFlight. "The research and development goal is to realize control laws that will transit a predefined set of waypoints as fast as possible and as close to the terrain as possible without exceeding operator-configured maximum G force."

The aim of adopting SVO capability is that, following much less training than a fully qualified pilot needs, an "operator" could be capable of handling the aircraft. The intention is that the aircraft could fly preprogrammed missions with the operator still able to make changes to the flight path as necessary. For instance, it might be necessary to reduce the maximum G force limits when carrying an injured soldier.

Transcend is developing the Vy 400 for scheduled regional air services and air taxi operations of up to around 450 miles. The company aims to have the aircraft certified and ready to enter commercial service by 2025. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A turboprop engine, it will seat up to five passengers and operate with a pilot on board.