Textron [TXT] Systems, which unveiled a kit last year that converts its Aerosonde small unmanned aircraft system into a vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) UAS, is now developing a longer-endurance version of the kit.

While a standard Aerosonde can fly 16 to 17 hours with a day/night video camera payload, an Aerosonde with the existing VTOL kit is limited to eight to 10 hours due to increased drag and weight. But Textron is working on a series of design tweaks to increase the VTOL variant’s endurance to 12 hours, said David Phillips, vice president of small/medium endurance UAS.

Aerosonde HQ, the vertical-takeoff-and-landing variant of Textron's Aerosonde unmanned aircraft. (Photo courtesy of Textron Systems)
Aerosonde HQ, the vertical-takeoff-and-landing variant of Textron’s Aerosonde unmanned aircraft. (Photo courtesy of Textron Systems)

The 12-hour endurance, which Textron hopes to achieve in a year or so, “would support a 24-hour mission for a customer with two aircraft,” Phillips told reporters July 5. “That’s where we want to take it.”

While Textron has not yet sold the existing kit, Phillips believes that could soon change as the military updates its requirements and concepts of operations. Textron has built prototypes that cost less than $100,000 apiece and estimates that the production cost will be less than $50,000 per kit.

“What I have right now is fieldable,” he said. “What I have right now I’ve already discussed with certain customers to get the capability out to the field.”

The standard Aerosonde, which weighs up to 80 pounds, is launched by a catapult and recovered by a net. The VTOL kit adds four battery-powered propellers to the aircraft’s twin booms.

Textron refers to the VTOL variant as Aerosonde HQ, with HQ standing for Hybrid Quadrotor. The kit can be installed in an hour and allows the Aerosonde to be operated with a smaller footprint.

Phillips made his comments while discussing a services contract that Textron recently received from Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) to provide UAS for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Textron is one of four companies that NAVAIR picked last month to compete for up to $1.73 billion in task orders over the next five years.

The other three companies are Boeing [BA] Insitu, with its Integrator and ScanEagle; PAE ISR, a joint venture of PAE and AOC, with its Resolute Eagle; and Academi Training Center, a Constellis company, with its Arcturus.

All four companies can compete for land-based services. Textron and Insitu are also eligible to provide sea-based services. Under the program, called “Close Range,” the companies will deploy and maintain their small UAS to supplement Navy and Marine Corps aircraft.

For Textron, the award builds on work the company has done for NAVAIR since 2012. The company already has flown various payloads on Aerosonde, including those performing communications relay and signals intelligence. Texton is looking to integrate new payloads, including synthetic aperture radar to conduct wide-area surveillance.

Textron and Insitu both received similar UAS services contracts from U.S. Special Operations Command in June (Defense Daily, June 8).