Boeing has selected Farnborough-headquartered defence and security technology provider QinetiQ to help with development of an ultra-long-endurance demonstrator aircraft. Operational applications could ultimately include persistent intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communications based on unmanned aircraft able to remain on station for up to five years at a time

The British company is bringing its expertise in solar-electric power for unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) to the first phase of the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Vulture programme, which aims to prepare the way for ultra-long-endurance aircraft operations.

The 12-month first phase will cover conceptual system definition, formal reliability and mission success analyses, a system requirements review, and development of concepts for sub- and full-scale demonstrators.

QinetiQ will contribute the technologies that went into its own Zephyr high-altitude, long-endurance UAV. The hand-launched, ultra-lightweight Zephyr is powered in daylight by amorphous silicon arrays applied in paper-thin sheets to its wings. At night it draws electricity from lithium-sulphur batteries that are charged during the day by exposure to sunlight.

Vulture UAV 

The design target for the Vulture vehicle is to be able to carry a 1,000lb, 5kW payload and remain on-station for 99% of the time. This would allow it, among other things, to demonstrate the possibility of duplicating the geographical coverage of a geostationary communications satellite at significantly lower cost.

Source: Flight International