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Piasecki awarded USAF contract to develop VTOLs and hydrogen propulsion technologies

November 22, 2023  By Helicopters Staff

ARES is a modular multimission VTOL aircraft that can be operated as an unmanned platform, or with an optional manned flight module. Photo Credit: Piasecki Aircraft Corporation

Rotorcraft and aerial vehicle maker Piasecki Aircraft Corporation has been awarded a US$37-million multi-year contract by AFWERX, the Air Force’s innovation arm in conjunction with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), as part of its Strategic Funding Increase (STRATFI) program.

The award will enable Piasecki to flight demonstrate its Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) tilt-duct vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial system (UAS), as well as hydrogen fuel cell propulsion technologies for VTOL and other aviation applications. ARES is a modular multimission VTOL aircraft that can be operated as an unmanned platform, the company said, or with an optional manned flight module.

“The STRATFI program plays a critical role in advancing emerging American technologies and we are thrilled to receive this significant investment,” said Piasecki CEO John Piasecki. “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.”

According to Piasecki, the STRATFI test program will also fund the demonstration of zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell propulsion technology for VTOLs, including the firm’s 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,” he said. “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.”


The contract comes on the heels of Piasecki’s announcement earlier this year that it had acquired the former Lockheed Martin Sikorsky Heliplex facility in Coatesville, Pa., and will transform the 219,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility into an advanced R&D and testing centre for VTOL and UAS vehicles. The facility – which includes engineering, assembly, paint and finishing, as well as a flight test and delivery centre – is expected to attract about 400 workers by 2028.


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