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L’seaplaneseaplane giant Darpa cargo ship is making headlines again. It is finally AuroraAurora Flight Sciences which obtained the contract for the design of the device. Baptized Liberty Lifterthis ground effect aircraft for military purposes – developed since 2022 for Darpa – is designed to be able to transport 100 tonnes of cargo, that is to say the equivalent of C-17 Globemaster III used by the US military. The planned autonomy is substantial, since its range should allow it to travel up to 12,000 kilometers.
Darpa also wanted the development of this aircraft to be very economical, with less expensive materials than those usually used in aviation. After phase 1, that is to say the drawing of the design of the device, Aurora Flight Sciences is now entering the design phase called 1B. This step will make it possible to develop an optimized method for assembling the device while minimizing risks and reducing costs as much as possible. For this, the aircraft manufacturer builds elements of the Liberty Lifter on a real scale with new materials to test their résistancerésistance and their behavior. Prototypes are also tested on a body of water.
Sensors for safe flying
The firm also develops sensorssensors to be able to predict the formation of surface waves on water. Because if it is very efficient when the sea is calm, ground effect flight becomes risky as soon as it is rough. The capacity of the portanceportance is then random. This type of sensor makes it possible to anticipate the behavior of the water surface and ensure that the aircraft can immediately compensate for these effects.
The design of the aircraft has also evolved, since the floats are moved towards the tips of the wings to ensure better performance. The tail also evolves with a tail made up of two vertical planes surmounted by the horizontal plane and the elevator. Although this phase 1B should be completed soon, it will still be necessary to wait until 2028 for the Liberty Lifter can make its maiden flight.
Darpa’s giant ground-effect cargo seaplane takes shape
Article from Sylvain BigetSylvain Bigetpublished on February 3, 2023
Darpa is putting two of its partners in competition to develop the design of the Liberty Plan. This giant cargo seaplane will use ground effect on the sea to transport heavy loads quickly over long distances.
At the end of May, Darpa announced that it planned to design a tactical cargo plane using ground effect on the sea to cover very long distances at high vitessevitesse. Today, the agency responsible for developing new technologies for military use is concretely starting its program.
The Liberty Lifter is reminiscent of ekranoplans, gigantic cargo planes based on this principle, developed by the Soviets and used until the end of the 1990s. For the moment, Darpa is only at the board stage drawing, that is to say what she calls the phase 1.
For this, the agency has just mandated two teams, General Atomics in collaboration with Maritime Applied Physics Corporation and Aurora Flight Sciences in partnership with Gibbs & Cox and ReconCraft. The two groups develop two concepts of demonstratordemonstrator in large scale. The main idea is to create a cargo seaplane with the same carrying capacity as a C-17 Globemaster III and of approximately the same dimensions.
Two different concepts
The Liberty Lifter must be capable of withstanding a takeoff and landing on a sea whose Beaufort scale would be level 4, that is to say a so-called light breeze, with waveswaves with a maximum height of 1.5 meters and a ventvent 20 to 30 km/h. The device must then be able to operate using ground effect above the water on level 5 seas on the same scale (up to 40 km/h wind, with waves of 2.5 m max).
Another particularity, the Liberty Lifter will have the capacity to rise to achieve a flight at an altitude of approximately 3,000 meters. In any case, Darpa hopes that this aéronefaéronef remains cheap. For the moment, the General Atomics team is working on a double-hull design to optimize stability on the water and seaworthiness. The aircraft is powered by twelve turboshaft engines.
From Aurora Flight Sciences’ side, the device looks more like a flying boat, with a single hull, a high wing with downward-pointing dihedrals and eight turboprops for main propulsion. This phase 1 should last 18 months. Three additional months are planned to plan initial tests. Phase 2 is expected to begin in mid-2024, with the constructionconstruction of a full-scale X-Plane Liberty Lifter.
Liberty Lifter, Darpa’s cargo plane that surfs the sea
Darpa is working on a tactical cargo plane using ground effect on the sea to cover very long distances at high speed. An aircraft reminiscent of the famous ekranoplans used by the Soviets and then the Russians until the end of the 1990s.
Article by Sylvain Biget, published on May 28, 2022
Here is the return of ekranoplans, Soviet devices resembling a gigantic seaplane that used ground effect to fly at low heights above water or a flat surface. But this time, it’s on the side of Darpa that this concept wants to see the light of day. The project porteporte the name of Liberty Lifter and it consists of a tactical cargo plane with a wide range of action. Designed like a seaplane, the aircraft must be capable of taking off and landing on water and transporting very heavy loads. It will also have to remain stable, even on rough waters and also leave ground effect to be able to fly at medium altitude. Like the Soviet ekranoplans, the Liberty Lifter could move above the water like a hydrofoil, at very high speed but, unlike them, it should be more maneuverable and capable of flying above rough seas.
The Liberty Lifter must be economical to build, have a long range and be capable of transporting heavy cargo. In this video, we can see that Darpa has designed a double fuselage. © Darpa
Un ekranoplan « low cost »
For the moment, Darpa is only in the first phase of this project, that is to say the concept. We can also see it in a video published by the organization (see above). As this aircraft will be capable of carrying heavy loads, this means that its lift will have to be very high at low speed to ensure a smooth landing without breakage. It will also need to be able to absorb the forces of the waves. Another constraint is that it must be able to remain operational at sea for weeks without requiring maintenance. Finally, Darpa wishes to reduce its production costs as much as possible by using more affordable materials than those used in aviation.
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