Vanilla Aircraft, whose small, diesel-powered VA001 unmanned aerial vehicle set a flight duration record late last year, is developing two larger aircraft that could carry heavier payloads to meet anticipated customer needs.

One new variant will have a larger engine and a slightly longer wing, allowing it to carry a 50-pound payload, up from the VA001’s 30-pound payload. Vanilla calls it “the B version” of the VA001 because, like the original aircraft, it will have a “bulbous bottom and long skinny wing,” said Tim Heely, Vanilla’s chief executive officer.

Vanilla Aircraft's VA001 unmanned aircraft. (Photo courtesy of Vanilla Aircraft)
Vanilla Aircraft’s VA001 unmanned aircraft. (Photo courtesy of Vanilla Aircraft)

Vanilla is designing a second variant to carry a 250-pound payload. The wingspan will be 62 feet, almost double the length of the VA001’s 32-foot wing. Its weight will be 1,200 pounds, triple that of the VA001. Vanilla plans to offer the aircraft in response to a U.S. Air Force small-business solicitation.

For the 250-pound payload, “the Air Force has asked, ‘Can someone do this?’” Heely said. “So we’ll try it.”

The VA001 flew for 56 hours from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 over Las Cruces, N.M., setting a world duration record for combustion-powered UAVs in its weight class, according to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which has helped fund the aircraft’s development. Although the aircraft had enough fuel to fly six more days, the flight ended early due to an ice storm and range restrictions.

“I don’t want to give the impression that this airplane is scared of weather,” Heely told Defense Daily in a recent interview. “Normally, we would have flown around it or flown above it, but we were restricted to the area that we had.”

Vanilla, based in Falls Church, Va., plans to continue flying the VA001. This summer, Vanilla hopes to demonstrate the aircraft’s long-endurance monitoring capabilities for the military using government-furnished sensors, said Heely, a retired Navy admiral and a former program executive officer for strike weapons and unmanned aviation at Naval Air Systems Command.

The company also intends to flight-test about five different sensors it is integrating with Office of Naval Research funding. At least one of the sensors will require installing a retractable-ball mechanism on the nose cone.

Like its “Vanilla” name, the company envisions “a very plain airplane” that can easily accommodate a wide range of sensors, Heely said. “The idea is: put on the sensors you want, bring it back and swap them out.”