AeroVironment has announced that the Global Observer (GO) is poised to enter production even as the high-altitude launch production of the high-altitude unmanned aircraft systems with ultra-long endurance remains in early flight tests.

The hydrogen-powered Global Observer, which AeroVironment advertises as a "pseudo-satellite," was built using production tooling, says Bob Curtin, vice president of business development.

The California-based company now has the capacity to build new aircraft at the rate of five per year, he says. The company expects production contracts to follow a $120 million, joint concept technology demonstration, which is now scheduled to complete in the first quarter of 2011.

AeroVironment is aiming the GO at a new military requirement for an airborne communications relay that can remain on station for several days before landing. The system also should be able to perform surveillance and intelligence missions. AeroVironment also foresees a future market for the GO as a commercial system, serving as a broadcast or communications relay antenna that offers more locational flexibility than a satellite.

The first GO completed its first long flight on August 5, although it had previously gone airborne on a high-speed taxi test.

The company also completed a second flight of about 1h on August 19, which was intended to check automatic flight control modes, including the ability to hold on a heading, turn rate and airspeed, Curtin says. In both flights, the GO reached an altitude of about 2,000ft above ground level.

So far, the company has used only battery power to run the GO's two engines. The company plans to complete a few more test flights before integrating the hydrogen propulsion system in a few months.

The GO is designed to be controlled "very autonomously" in operations, with only landings performed manually by pilots on the ground and navigating in-flight by following preplanned waypoints, Curtin says. During early flight tests, the pilots are controlling the aircraft directly from the ground, he adds.

Source: Flight Daily News