Northrop Grumman wins contract for DARPA's Ancillary VTOL program

Northrop Grumman has announced that it has successfully won DARPA's ANCILLARY contract to develop an autonomous vertical takeoff and landing for the US Navy.
Christopher McFadden
Artistic impression of the new drone.

Northrop Grumman 

The US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA) Tactical Technology Office has awarded Northrop Grumman Corporation a new contract to develop an autonomous vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) uncrewed aircraft system capable of operating from a moving Navy ship at sea. Called "The AdvaNced airCraft Infrastructure-Less Launch And RecoverY" (ANCILLARY), the prototype will be designed as a cost-efficient, multiple-mission capable vehicle built on a runway independent agile platform.


DARPA's ANCILLARY program aims to develop, and flight demonstrates a small unmanned air system (UAS) with the critical technologies required for long endurance, vertical takeoff, and landing (VTOL) performance. According to Electric VTOL News, The ANCILLARY vehicle should weigh between 250-330 lbs (113-150 kg), allowing multiple aircraft to be stored and operated from a single ship, creating a tactical beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) multi-intelligence sensor network capability.

The primary design objectives of this envisioned vehicle are:

  • Launch and Recovery without Infrastructure
  • Extended Endurance and Range
  • High Payload to Weight Ratio at Tactical Scale
  • Robust Flight Controls and Relative Navigation

Though DARPA does not state it directly, this aircraft would likely have electric motors powering ducted fans and a hybrid-electric power source with batteries. The UAS will launch and recover from ship flight decks and small, remote land locations in adverse weather conditions without additional infrastructure equipment, thus enabling expeditionary deployments.

Furthermore, the size of the UAS would allow many aircraft to be stored and operated from one ship creating a tactical beyond-line-of-sight, multi-intelligence sensor network capability. Northrop Grumman's ANCILLARY demonstrator, the company explains, will be able to carry a 60-pound (27 kg) sensor payload for up to 20 hours and has a mission radius range of 100 nautical miles (185 km). It can also land on a ship even in adverse weather conditions without additional infrastructure.

Navy's multi-role drone

The aircraft can perform intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions, supporting special operations forces and logistical missions. It will also significantly reduce costs for transporting supplies and parts from ship to shore.

“In collaboration with DARPA, Northrop Grumman will work to significantly enhance how future autonomous vertical lift aircraft will operate at sea and ashore. The ANCILLARY program enables us to combine our digital engineering expertise with extensive knowledge and insights from past successes in developing and operating uncrewed vertical lift aircraft for the US Navy," explains Tim Frei, vice president of research and advanced design, Northrop Grumman.

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