Piasecki Growing VTOL Unmanned Aerial Plane for U.S. Air Drive AFWERX Program

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels

Kimberly Hoodin

January 22, 2024

Piasecki received a $37M contract from the U.S. Air Force’s AFWERX program to demonstrate its tilt-duct vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial system.

Piasecki Aircraft Corporation, in conjunction with the Air Force Research Laboratory, received a $37M contract from the U.S. Air Force’s innovation program, AFWERX, as part of its Strategic Funding Increase (STRATFI) program. The contract is for the development and demonstration of the Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) tilt-duct vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial system (UAS) and for demonstration of hydrogen fuel cell propulsion for VTOL. 

ARES features a small landing footprint and modularity allowing flexibility to rapidly reconfigure Mission Payload Modules, reducing both coordination and cost, and supporting the critical need to reach embedded forces operating over long distances and in complex terrain. The wings and propellers of ARES are one unit and can remotely pick up and deliver cargo. The electric motors are lighter and more efficient than traditional motors with gears and shafts, allowing for increased reliability and quick adjustments when needed. The ARES VTOL vehicle costs less to manufacture than a traditional system, costs less to maintain, and can carry heavier loads thanks to lightweighting. In addition, ARES provides the flexibility of operating as an unmanned platform or with an optional manned flight module. 

Piasecki is working with ZeroAvia on development of the High Temperature Proton Exchange Membrane (HTPEM) hydrogen fuel cell technology. Val Miftakhov, Founder and CEO of ZeroAvia, said, “Higher temperature fuel cells are a critical technology to delivering improvements in specific power and unlocking truly clean propulsion for larger fixed wing aircraft, but they will also enable rotorcraft and VTOL applications. Working together on this project with a company of Piasecki’s heritage and expertise in rotorcraft, with US Air Force backing, is a hugely exciting step in delivering on our vision of hydrogen-electric engines in every aircraft.” 

 John Piasecki, CEO of Piasecki Aircraft, said of the project, “The STRATFI program plays a critical role in advancing emerging American technologies and we are thrilled to receive this significant investment. This new funding will allow us to demonstrate ARES’ unique tilt-duct configuration, which enables seamless transition between hover and fixed-wing forward flight — a technological leap that would address critical aerial challenges faced by the U.S. military. The STRATFI test program will also fund the demonstration of zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell propulsion technology for VTOLs, including our forthcoming PA-890 compound helicopter. Demonstration of the PA-890 would be a world-first for electric aviation and would usher in a new era of clean vertical flight. While R&D work on these projects began several years ago, this new funding will rapidly expand our ability to deliver these radically new vehicles to customers and partners across the military and commercial sectors.”

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