Under the authority of the New Mexico unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) test site, Falls Church, Va.-based Vanilla Aircraft LLC recently completed a nonstop, non-refueled 56-hour flight of its VA001 drone.
The flight was submitted for a world duration record for combustion-powered unmanned aerial vehicles in the 50-500 kg subclass (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Class U-1.c Group 1). A representative from the National Aeronautic Association was present for the flight, which originated and ended at Las Cruces International Airport, says Vanilla.
The flight, planned as a 120-hour mission, was ended early due to potential icing and range restrictions. However, the aircraft landed with enough JP-8 fuel on board for an additional 90 hours of flying, according to the company.
The UAS carried 20 pounds of actual and simulated payload and flew at 6,500 to 7,500 feet above mean sea level. NAVAIR provided a relay, and NASA provided a multispectral imaging payload as a demonstration of Earth science and agricultural remote sensing.
“The VA001 has transformational potential, providing a scalable aerial system solution without increasing personnel or operating costs,” says Neil Boertlein, co-founder and chief engineer of the company. “The ability of a low-cost platform to provide persistent surveillance, battlefield pattern of life or aerial mesh network relay – in a responsive and robust manner and without forward basing – does not currently exist.”
Vanilla is also planning a role for the VA001 in commercial applications, especially in agriculture. The company says it is currently exploring strategic partnerships and equity financing to expand into the commercial market.
“The VA001 would be a cost-effective option for widespread and regular low-level surveying,” adds Jeremy Novara, co-founder and program manager of Vanilla Aircraft. “We could fill a wide cost and payload-capability market gap between small electric and large military unmanned aircraft – which is perfect for many commercial applications.”