Two teams, General Atomics alongside Maritime Applied Physics Corporation and Aurora Flight Sciences with Gibbs & Cox and ReconCraft, have been selected to develop designs for DARPA’s Liberty Lifter Seaplane Wing-in-Ground Effect full-scale demonstrator.
According to DARPA, the Liberty Liner program aims to demonstrate a leap-ahead in operational capability by designing, building, floating and flying a long-range, low-cost X-plane capable of seaborne strategic and tactical heavy lift.
The planned Liberty Lifter demonstrator will be a large flying boat similar to size and capacity to the C-17 Globemaster lll transport aircraft. Goals include takeoff and land in Sea State 4, sustained on-water operation up to Sea State 5, and extended flight close to the water in ground effect with the capability to fly out of ground effect at altitudes up to 10,000 feet above sea level.
DARPA Liberty Lifter Program Manager Christopher Kent, said: “We are excited to kick off this program and looking forward to working closely with both performer teams as they mature their point-of-departure design concepts through Phase 1. The two teams have taken distinctly different design approaches that will enable us to explore a relatively large design space during Phase 1.”
The General Atomics team has selected a twin-hull, mid-wing design to optimize on-water stability and seakeeping. It employs distributed propulsion using twelve turboshaft engines.
Aurora Flight Sciences point-of-departure design closely resembles a traditional flying boat, with a single hull, high wing and eight turboprops for primary propulsion.
During Phase 1, DARPA will work with both performer teams and Department of Defense stakeholders to refine the Liberty Lifter designs with particular attention to operational needs and operating concepts. The Phase 1 contract awards are for an 18-month period of performance with six months conceptual design work and nine months of design maturation culminating in a preliminary design review. There will be an additional three months for manufacturing planning and test/demonstration planning reviews.
As scheduled, Phase 1 will transition into Phase 2 in mid-2024 with continued detailed design, manufacturing, and demonstration of a full-scale Liberty Lifter X-Plane. DARPA anticipates teaming with one or more DoD Service and international partners for those activities and further development of the Liberty Lifter concept into an operational vehicle.