Platform Aerospace’s Vanilla unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) performed an eight-day, 50-minute, 47-second flight on October 2 at Edwards AFB in California.
The demonstration is submitted for ratification as the official world record for the longest non-refueling flight performed by an internal combustion engine aircraft, the company said on Oct. 2. The Vanilla drone’s previous in-flight endurance record, set in 2017, was five days. Platform Aerospace claims the aircraft is capable of flying for up to 10 days.
For the recent world record attempt, the UAV took off from Rogers Dry Lakebed in the Mojave Desert of California on September 24, then for over a week performed dozens of loops, the equivalent of 10,600 nm (19,630 km), over Edwards AFB before landing. . The aircraft was carrying a communication relay system and ballasts.
The record-breaking flight was the latest in a series of UAV demonstrations conducted in coordination with Edwards AFB. Previously, the Vanilla UAV had made several flights of 50 hours each, carrying two electro-optical infrared cameras, two satellite communication relays for operations beyond visual flight range, a “customer exclusive radar” no specified and a mesh radio system, says Platform Aerospace. The Vanilla drone can carry up to 68kg of sensor payloads on five internal bays and external racks.
Platform Aerospace appears to market Vanilla to the US military as a Group 3 UAV for tactical operations. Group 3 drones are classified as weighing between 25.4 kg (56 lbs) and 599 kg.
The US military is testing candidates for its future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (FTUAS), the replacement for its Textron RQ-7B Shadow drone. He wants this next-generation UAV to be capable of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) and be able to conduct tactical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
“The idea that a tactic [UAV] must be VTOL and fly for less than 24 hours precludes disruptive technology that could be deployed today, ”said Dan Edwards, CTO of Platform Aerospace. “The value of inexpensive multi-sensor multi-day coverage is immense. “
Platform Aerospace’s drone is not in the running for the FTUAS program. However, the company notes that Vanilla can be launched without a track in the back of a moving truck. The firm is also developing a VTOL version of Vanilla.
For long-endurance missions, the UAV faces off against high-altitude solar-powered UAVs under development, some of which are designed to fly for months at a time. Platform Aerospace claims Vanilla is more maneuverable for tactical missions.
“Unlike solar powered high altitude systems, Vanilla reacts immediately to operator tasks and flies at tactical altitudes, thus accepting smaller and less expensive sensors for the same. [command, control, computers, communications, cyber, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] value, ”says the company.
Platform Aerospace also markets Vanilla as “attriable,” meaning that it is cheap enough to be lost to fight attrition and then replaced at an affordable price. The company claims that the UAV is inexpensive to build and operate because it uses standard commercial parts and has a modular design.