Vanilla Aircraft’s VA001 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) finished the longest unmanned internal combustion powered flight ever, the company said last Thursday.
The over five-day flight occurred over 7,000 miles, ending at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The aircraft carried several payloads, including NASA’s multi-spectral imager and a Defense Department-furnished sensor and radio. The company noted the flight was funded by the Office of Naval Research.
The VA001 has a 36-foot wingspan and is diesel powered. The company highlighted this flight-test shows the practical use of an ultra-endurance heavy fuel aircraft with a small logistics footprint.
The VA001 was built by the five-person startup company, which is based in Falls Church, Va. It carries up to 1.1 cubic feet of payload with a 30 pound weight limit and provides 800 watts of power. The company said it is built to operate for up to 10 days at a time at altitudes reaching 15,000 feet. It can loiter at 55 knots and “dash” to 75 knots.
Earlier this year, the company said it is developing two additional aircraft that could carry heavier payloads: one with a larger engine and slightly longer wing to carry up to 50 pounds and one with a 250-pound payload and 62-foot wingspan (Defense Daily, Jan. 31).
This was the VA001's tenth test flight. It began with a pilot-controlled takeoff on Oct. 18, moved to autopilot control, and then orbited above Wallops Island’s Virginia Space UAS Runway at 5,000 feet in a two-mile orbit. The VA001 maintained the flight path that will later be flown in with a soon to be installed camera system, Vanilla Aircraft said.
The aircraft landed autonomously on Oct. 23 at Wallops Island.
Test Director Jeremy Novara said in a statement that previous flights validated the aircraft’s performance, but this one “really demonstrated the reliability and ease of operation that a low-cost persistent unmanned aircraft can obtain.”
“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,” Chief Engineer Neil Boertlein added.
The company expects future flights will demonstrate the ability to carry classified payloads like electro-optical and infrared imagers, synthetic aperture radar, SIGINT systems, and communications nodes.
Vanilla Aircraft said it expects to begin production in the next “coming months” and is ready to team with payload providers.