The Lockheed Martin/ Boeing DarkStar high-altitude endurance unmanned air vehicle (UAV) had its first flight at Edwards AFB, California, on 29 March.

The 21m-span UAV had a fully automated flight lasting 20min from take off to landing using differential global-positioning-system (GPS) navigation signals for guidance throughout. "The vehicle achieved its planned altitude of about 5,000ft and completed all pre-planned basic flight maneouvres," says the DarkStar team.

The UAV is being developed, for the US Defense Department's Tier III Minus programme and had been expected to have flown originally in December 1995. A series of software and hardware problems, primarily concerning the flight- control system and speed brakes, dogged the UAV before being overcome in March.

The test programme will also evaluate the performance of the UAV's high-resolution synthetic- aperture radar and electro-optical reconnaissance payloads. Following completion of the tests, the Darkstar will be shown to the US military in a series of tactical demonstrations. The DarkStar was developed under a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency/Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office contract. The UAV is powered by an 8.5kN (1,900lb)-thrust Williams-Rolls F129 (FJ44) turbofan buried in the saucer section.

The aircraft will be able to operate at a range of more than 900km (500nm) and stay on station for over 8h at more than 45,000ft.

Source: Flight International