A one-fifth-scale model of Aurora Flight Science's strange LightningStrike aircraft just took to the skies for the first time, proving (seemingly!) that stuffing 24 ducted fans into a single aircraft might just work after all.
The LightningStrike, which Aurora is building in cooperation by way of a DARPA contract, is designed to carry several thousand pounds of cargo without a pilot and be able to take off and land vertically — all while reaching speeds of 400 knots (about 460 mph) when cruising. That vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) mission combined with cargo capability and high cruise speed makes it a little like the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor, except that the LightningStrike runs on electric power alone. Also, it's a full-on drone, unlike the V-22.
Weighing 325 pounds, the scale model looks just as bizarre as the renderings of the full-size aircraft with two thick, sprawling "wings" each containing nine fans. At altitude, the wings rotate, sending the LightningStrike on its way.
Aurora says that it'll spend the next year working on the LightningStrike's flight control system and on the full-scale version, which could fly as soon as 2018.