A Virginia-based start-up has demonstrated that a sub-500kg unmanned air vehicle (UAV) can fly more than five days without refueling with a conventional diesel motor.
Vanilla Aircraft’s VA001 landed at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on 23 October after flying 121h and 24min — or five days — carrying a small payload, the company announced on 26 October.
The aircraft uses a deceptively simple configuration with a top-mounted, 11m (36ft)-diameter wing and a diesel engine, yet is theoretically capable of non-stop, 10-day endurance. The VA001 completed its most recent test with three days of of fuel on board.
“As exciting as this milestone is, the flight itself was quite boring. The plane did what it was designed to do and landed ready to go right back into the air again,” says Vanilla chief engineer Neil Boertlein.
The five-day excursion is the latest achievement by the relatively young UAV company. Vanilla celebrated a 21h flight by the VA001 in April 2016 and announced a record-breaking, 56h endurance flight last January. The latter was planned to be a five-day mission, but severe icing conditions forced VA001 to land early.
Vanilla Aircraft has now completed 10 test flights of the VA001, with funding support from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Office of Naval Research.
The company now plans to launch production of the aircraft in the “coming months”, targeting commercial and military buyers.
The next series of demonstration flights will focus on carrying classified and unclassified surveillance and communications payloads, according to Vanilla.
“We have begun to fully demonstrate the viability of this ultra-long endurance aircraft system and are anxious to test new payloads and realize capabilities heretofore unimagined,” says Vanilla chief executive Tim Heely.