ROBOTICS

High-Altitude Aircraft Could Spy for 5 Years Nonstop

3/1/2011
By Eric Beidel
Scientists would like to create a drone with 1,000 times more durable than today’s most persistent unmanned aircraft.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency aims to develop “an entirely new class of aircraft that combines the key benefits of satellites with those of aircraft,” program manager Daniel Newman said.

The drone, called Vulture, would join the endurance of a satellite with the ability to stay in one region. It would be able to fly over a certain area for 44,000 hours straight. Scientists envision it operating at altitudes of 50,000 and 70,000 feet, about the same as a Global Hawk, the military’s largest drone.

The final product most likely will feature a solar-electric power system and payloads that far exceed the reliability of those on current unmanned aircraft. Because Vulture would soar for half a decade at a time, “conventional reliance on repair and replacement between sorties is not an option,” Newman said.

Vulture could be used to gain awareness of the Arctic domain and for other missions that currently are considered unaffordable or extremely difficult, he said.

Boeing was recently awarded a contract for the program’s second phase, which will be capped with a flight demonstration of at least 30 days. The Vulture experimental aircraft is slated to fly in 2014.

Topics: Robotics, Unmanned Air Vehicles

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