After five days, one hour twenty-four minutes, and traversing over 7000 miles, Vanilla Aircraft´s VA001 touched down at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, successfully completing the longest unmanned internal combustion powered flight in history, the company said.
The 36-foot wingspan, diesel-powered aircraft landed with three days of fuel remaining on board, successfully meeting its goal of a five-day flight. Carrying multiple payloads, including a NASA-furnished multispectral imager and a DoD-furnished sensor and radio, this flight showed the practical use of an ultra-endurance heavy fuel aircraft with a logistics footprint a fraction of those required by other current unmanned air systems.
Imagined, designed, built and operated by a five-person start-up out of Falls Church, Virginia, the VA001´s success demonstrates the capability of a small, agile company to build a generic, i.e. “vanilla”, unmanned air system that can be customized to fit user needs.
The aircraft carries up to 1.1 cubic feet of payload, with a 30 pound weight limit and provides 800 watts of power. Built to operate for up to ten days at altitudes up to 15,000 feet with a dash speed of 75 knots and loiter speeds of around 55 knots, the VA001 will enable users to devise many missions capitalizing on its open design.
This was the tenth flight of the aircraft, and showed the potential of its affordable, deceptively simple-looking design. The aircraft executed a pilot-controlled takeoff Wednesday morning, October 18, was switched to autopilot control, and quietly orbited above Wallops Island´s Virginia Space UAS Runway at 5,000 feet in a 2-mile orbit, maintaining the flight path to be flown with another soon to be installed camera system.
On Monday, October 23, it made a successful autonomous landing back at NASA Wallops. The flight was completed under funding from the Office of Naval Research.