Military Embedded Systems

UAS claims world record for nonstop unrefueled flight


January 06, 2017

Lisa Daigle

Assistant Managing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

UAS claims world record for nonstop unrefueled flight
Photo of VA-001 UAS and long-exposure photo of flight path courtesy DARPA.

FALLS CHURCH, Va. Vanilla Aircraft -- a joint business effort backed by DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] and NAVAIR [U.S. Naval Air System Command] -- announced that its VA001 unmanned aircraft system (UAS) recently completed a nonstop, unrefueled, 56-hour flight. The flight was submitted for a world duration record for combustion-powered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the 50- to 500-kg subclass; a representative from the National Aeronautic Association was present to witness and verify the record.

The flight, originally planned as a 120-hour mission, was terminated after only 56 hours due to forecasted severe icing and range restrictions. Even with the shortened flight, however, the UAS landed with enough JP-8 diesel fuel on board for an additional 90 hours of flying, or enough for a total of six days aloft. The propeller-driven VA001 is designed to carry a 30-pound payload at 15,000 feet for up to 10 days without refueling. The flight, which originated and ended at Las Cruces (New Mexico) International Airport, was conducted under the FAA-designated authority of the New Mexico State University UAS test site.

“This record-breaking flight demonstrated the feasibility of designing a low-cost UAV able to take off from one side of a continent, fly to the other, perform its duties for a week, and come back — all on the same tank of fuel,” said Jean-Charles Lede, DARPA program manager. “This capability would help extend the footprint of small units by providing scalable, persistent UAV-based communications and ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] coverage without forward basing, thereby reducing personnel and operating costs."



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