Aurora reveals future Orion modification plan

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Aurora Flight Sciences has revealed plans for future modifications of its 120h-endurance Orion unmanned air system (UAS).

If cleared to advance beyond the funded demonstration, the Orion will be modified with a retractable main landing gear to reduce drag and a de-icing system for all-weather operations, said Tim Bennett, the US-headquartered firm's Orion programme manager.

The Orion demonstrator's nose gear already retracts, but the main landing gear is fixed. The exposed gear and wheels will not prevent the Orion from achieving the 5-day endurance flight, Bennett said.

An operational aircraft may require retractable gear, however. Aurora is designing a main gear that retracts into a pair of extended engine nacelles, Bennett added.

The US Air Force Research Laboratory selected Aurora last year, over aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, to develop and demonstrate an unmanned aircraft that can remain airborne for five days without refuelling.

 
© Aurora Flight Sciences

Aurora plans to complete first flight between June and September next year, Bennett said.

The five-day demonstration flight is expected to be completed between December 2012 and March 2013, he added. The demonstration requires Orion to operate at 20,000ft (6,100m) with a 453kg (1,000lb) payload.

Aurora is currently in the process of selecting the sensor payload, which must be reliable enough to operate continuously for 120h.