Platform Aerospace, a small Maryland company that lists itself as a service-disabled veteran-owned business founded in 1993, finished an eight day-long flight of the company’s Vanilla Unmanned aircraft at Edwards AFB, Calif., on Oct. 2, the U.S. Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) said.
“The official flight time was 8 days, 50 minutes, and 47 seconds, and covered 12,200 miles in continuous flight, breaking the world record for unrefueled, internal combustion endurance of an unmanned aircraft,” per AFMC.
Air Force Lt. Col. Adam Brooks, AFMC’s emerging technologies combined test force director, said in a statement that the flight points to future intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems.
“While the world record is exciting in and of itself, it is more important that we realize what this endurance ability means for our Joint Services who need persistent ISR capabilities immediately,” he said.
Platform Aerospace and AFMC’s 412th Testing Wing’s Emerging Technologies Combined Test Force at Edwards launched the aircraft from the Rogers Dry Lakebed in California on Sept. 24.
The Vanilla Unmanned flight broke the prior record flight of five days of continuous flight “while providing high-definition Electro-Optical/Infrared-Red [EO/IR] video and command and control over satellite communication at beyond [visual] line-of-sight [BVLOS] range,” per AFMC.
Kurt Parsons, the CEO of Platform Aerospace, said in the statement that the company’s goal “is to get a low-cost, ultra-long endurance ISR asset to the warfighter that can carry real mission payloads.”
Vanilla Unmanned is a fixed-wing Group 3 Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) that is to be payload and mission agnostic, or “vanilla.”
The system that flew the eight-day flight “costs less than (DoD) pays for some ordnance,” Parsons said. “It’s not just the sticker price for this record-setting system, but also a multi-day flight model with drastically reduced manning and logistics cost.”
Platform Aerospace said that Vanilla Unmanned is able to port up to 150 pounds of sensor payloads “across five internal bays and external mounts, each receiving onboard power and datalink for sensor command and control.”
The company said that a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) variant “is in production with government sponsorship and will take flight in early 2022.”
The Platform Aerospace webpage said that Parsons is a former Navy deep sea diver and pilot of the Lockheed Martin [LMT] P-3C Orion anti-submarine warfare aircraft.
Last October, the company said that it became the sole owner of Vanilla Unmanned. Retired Rear Adm. Timothy Heely leads the Vanilla Unmanned team at Platform Aerospace where he is the senior vice president of strategy. Heely is a former Navy program executive officer for Naval Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons and a former board member for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).
“The world-record flight was the last in a series of events at Edwards Air Force Base demonstrating Vanilla’s unique multi-day, multi-sensor capability,” Platform Aerospace said. “Several sorties over 50 hours each carried two EO/IR cameras, two satellite communications systems for BVLOS operations, and a customer-proprietary radar in addition to the mesh radio system.”
Platform Aerospace said that “unlike larger long endurance UAS, Vanilla is a tactical-scale Group III system that uses an internal-combustion engine for propulsion.”
“Its smaller size enables runway independent launch from forward locations with minimal manning,” the company said. “Unlike solar-powered high-altitude systems, Vanilla is immediately responsive to operator tasking and flies at tactical altitudes, thereby accommodating smaller and lower cost sensors for the same C5ISR value. Vanilla runs on standard Jet-A fuel, easing logistics concerns during forward operations.”
Dan Edwards, the chief technology officer for Platform Aerospace, said in a statement that Vanilla Unmanned “has changed the definition of endurance,” as the aircraft “is a tactical asset with strategic relevance.”
“The notion that tactical UAS must be VTOL and fly for less than 24 hours excludes a disruptive technology that could be fielded today,” per Edwards. “The value of inexpensive multi-day, multi-sensor coverage is immense.”
Platform Aerospace said that it collaborated with a number of companies on the eight-day flight including L3Harris WESCAM [LHX], AlarisPro, IMSAR LLC, Inmarsat Government, Mission Secure, Inc., Progeny Systems Corp., Sechan Electronics, and VX Aerospace.