Test flights are set to start this summer of a Diamond DA42 that will be modified to fly in a “pilot optional” configuration. Aurora Flight Sciences, of Manassas, Va., is creating the Optionally Piloted Vehicle prototype, called the Centaur, for a variety of scientific and military applications. The Centaur will have roughly the same payload and range capabilities as an unmanned MQ-1 Predator, the company said, but with several advantages. “First, it can be flown with a pilot onboard, which will facilitate operation in the National Airspace System,” said Aurora President John Langford. “Second, it has two engines, which gives greater reliability and safety. Third, the Centaur is easily reconfigurable so it can carry a variety of payloads. Finally, it has extremely low operating costs. We see it as a crossover product with enormous potential in many markets.”
The four-seat airplane, equipped with two Austro E300 diesel engines, will be modified with an extensive suite of propriety electronics and software. Its first mission will be mapping the ice pack over Greenland, as part of a NASA experiment. For this mission, a removable belly pod housing radar will be installed. When flying in manned aircraft mode, the Centaur is intended to retain the DA42’s normal FAA certification, the company said, and when operated in unmanned mode, it is expected to fly under an experimental certification. An unmanned version of the DA42, using Thielert diesel engines, was developed by Israeli Aeronautics Defense Systems and flew for the last time last July. That aircraft is named the Dominator II.