The AeroVironment Global Observer hybrid-electric unmanned aircraft system could be extended beyond the current $120 million demonstration effort, and become a programme of record within the US government between 2012 and 2014.
The US Special Operations Command is "working" to find more funding for Global Observer, an aircraft designed to remain airborne for five to seven days above 55,000ft (16,800m), chief executive Timothy Conver told analysts in December.
AeroVironment also has revealed options for extending Global Observer beyond the demonstration phase. The military could either buy small quantities of new systems to meet urgent needs, or convert the demonstration aircraft into operational systems, Conver says. "This is a revolutionary aircraft that employs technologies never before used in such a manner," he adds.
The stakes of Global Observer's success for AeroVironment are enormous. If the UAS is accepted as a programme of record, it will generate more revenue annually than the nearly $250 million overall sales total reported in fiscal year 2009, Conver says.
The UAS has been expected to enter formal flight testing by the end of company's fiscal third quarter, which is 31 January, but could stretch to the end of April. Conver says the Global Observer should enter flight tests in the second half of the company's fiscal year, which ends on 30 April.
The Global Observer programme completed an initial, two-month flight-test phase last September. More recently, AeroVironment finished running systems on aircraft number one for 12 continuous hours, Conver says.