Tuesday, December 5, 2023

DARPA unveils new long-range, heavy-lift seaplane concept

America’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched the “Liberty Lifter” project to demonstrate a leap in operational logistics capabilities by designing, building, and flying a long-range, affordable, heavy-lift aircraft capable of landing and taking off without a land- or ship-based runway. The disruptive seaplane will provide the U.S. military with strategic advantages as it expands its cargo airlift capabilities.

The envisioned plane will combine fast and flexible strategic lifts of very large, heavy loads with the ability to take off and land in the water. Such a design could enable highly controlled flight close to turbulent water surfaces and sustained flight at mid-altitudes. In addition, the plane will be built with a low-cost design and construction philosophy.

Current sealift is very efficient in transporting large amounts of payload; however, it is vulnerable to threats, requires functional ports, and results in long transit times. While traditional airlift is much faster, their ability to support maritime operations is limited and is further constrained by the requirement of long runways or payload limits.

DARPA is therefore looking to develop an aircraft that can fly with a “wing-in-ground effect,” which means the aircraft is flying no more than the length of its wingspan above ground or water.

“This first phase of the Liberty Lifter program will define the unique seaplane’s range, payloads, and other parameters,” said Alexander Walan, a program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “Innovative advances envisioned by this new DARPA program will showcase an X-plane demonstrator that offers warfighters new capabilities during extended maritime operations.”

DARPA’s Liberty Lifter program aims to design a seaplane that operates efficiently in ground effect (less than 100 feet above the surface), can sustain flight altitudes up to 10,000 feet mean sea level (MSL), and enables efficient theater-range transport of large payloads at speeds far exceeding existing sea lift platforms. Advanced sensors and control schemes will be developed to avoid large waves and to handle aero/hydro-dynamic interactions during takeoff/landing.

Liberty Lifter will use low-cost manufacturing akin to ship fabrication in building a highly innovative seaplane capable of meeting DoD heavy lift requirements (100+ tons) that operates with the runway and port independence.