Exploring initial designs for DARPA’s VTOL X-Plane project

DARPA unveils nine teams for ANCILLARY X-plane development

DARPA‘s ambitious ANCILLARY (AdvaNced airCraft Infrastructure-Less Launch And RecoverY) project is moving forward with nine companies now on board to develop conceptual designs for an innovative vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) uncrewed aerial system (UAS).

“ANCILLARY aims to develop a small UAS that takes off and lands vertically, like a helicopter, and flies its mission like very efficient winged aircraft, while carrying a significant payload,”

Steve Komadina, the DARPA program manager for ANCILLARY.

Different approach to VTOL technology

The ANCILLARY project is setting its sights on a low-weight, large-payload, long-endurance VTOL uncrewed X-plane that can operate without the need for heavy mechanical launchers and landing/recovery equipment.

The nine teams behind ANCILLARY’s vision

These nine companies, each bringing a wealth of experience and innovative thinking, have been selected for the ANCILLARY project:

  1. AeroVironment: A renowned leader in the field of unmanned aircraft systems, AeroVironment’s work on the project will likely incorporate their extensive experience in small UAS.
  2. AVX Aircraft: AVX specializes in compound helicopters and coaxial rotor systems, making them a valuable asset in designing VTOL aircraft.
  3. Griffon Aerospace: With over 5000 unmanned aircraft produced, Griffon Aerospace’s contribution to the ANCILLARY project is anticipated to draw on their deep knowledge of unmanned systems.
  4. Karem Aircraft: Known for their optimum speed tiltrotor technology, Karem Aircraft’s input could be critical in addressing the balance between vertical lift and forward flight.
  5. Leidos: A science and technology leader in multiple industries, Leidos’ diverse experience might provide innovative approaches to the challenges of the ANCILLARY project.
  6. Method Aeronautics: Although a newer company, Method Aeronautics is carving out a niche in aviation technology and may bring fresh ideas to the table.
  7. Northrop Grumman: A major player in global security and aerospace, Northrop Grumman’s involvement suggests significant technological contributions to the project.
  8. Piasecki Aircraft: With their rich history in pioneering rotorcraft and VTOL technology, Piasecki Aircraft’s role in the ANCILLARY project will likely draw from this legacy.
  9. Sikorsky: A world leader in helicopter design and manufacture, Sikorsky’s work on the ANCILLARY project may see them applying their expertise in novel ways.

The ANCILLARY project’s ambitions

The objective is to create a UAS capable of operating from ship flight decks and secluded land locations under most weather conditions, all while forgoing the typical launch and recovery equipment currently required for high payload, long endurance aircraft.

The challenges and the future of the ANCILLARY project

ANCILLARY will tackle a mix of design challenges by marrying advancements in VTOL aircraft configurations, propulsion architectures, and advanced control theory. The project is set to conclude with X-plane flight tests in early 2026.


  • Project: ANCILLARY (AdvaNced airCraft Infrastructure-Less Launch And RecoverY)
  • Companies involved: AeroVironment, AVX Aircraft, Griffon Aerospace, Karem Aircraft, Leidos, Method Aeronautics, Northrop Grumman, Piasecki Aircraft, Sikorsky
  • VTOL UAS Concept: Low-weight, large-payload, long-endurance
  • Project timeline: Expected to conclude with flight tests in early 2026

Looking into the future of uncrewed aircraft

The ANCILLARY project signifies a shift in our perception of uncrewed aircraft. It is shaping the future of VTOL technology by integrating advanced propulsion and control systems and innovative aircraft configurations. This development may dramatically reshape aerial operations, particularly for the Navy and Marines, by increasing efficiency and flexibility in various weather conditions and locations.


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