DARPA's Vulture To Loiter Aloft For Five Years

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Boeing and Lockheed Martin have been selected, along with Aurora Flight Sciences, by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to design and develop an unmanned solar-powered aircraft that can stay aloft for five years. The venture, DARPA's "Vulture" program, would ultimately see a fixed-wing aircraft ascend to 60,000 to 90,000 feet carrying a 1,000-pound payload, produce 5 kW of onboard power and loiter uninterrupted in its mission airspace 99 percent of the time. Those missions may include support of regional telecommunications, persistent surveillance, reconnaissance and atmospheric research. The first 12 months of the program will explore vehicle configurations and investigate in-flight energy collection and storage (solar/photovoltaic cells and fuel cells), along with reliable propulsion systems.

The next phase hopes to see a three-month-long uninterrupted flight test of a sub-scale demonstration vehicle. Aurora's concept design, called "Odysseus," has yet to be unveiled, but the company is already involved in the GoldenEye ducted fan UAV project, the Orion High Altitude Long Loiter (HALL) liquid hydrogen powered project and others. See AVweb video coverage of Boeing's fuel cell aircraft here.