Unmanned aircraft system (UAS) manufacturer Aurora Flight Sciences filed for an official world endurance record for its fixed-wing Orion UAS, which performed an 80-hour flight in early December. The company awaited recognition of the feat from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) in Switzerland.
The flight originated from the U.S. Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division range at China Lake, Calif., in the Mojave Desert, and was conducted at altitudes between 4,500 and 10,000 feet above msl. Observers from the National Aeronautic Association, the U.S. representative of the FAI, observed the flight, which took place from December 5 to 8. Four pilots, or “air vehicle operators,” flew the aircraft during that time.
Northrop Grumman set the previous unmanned aircraft endurance record, flying an RQ-4A Global Hawk for 30 hours, 24 minutes from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on March 21, 2001.
The twin-engine, 11,200-pound-gross-takeoff-weight Orion landed with approximately 1,700 pounds of fuel remaining, “with endurance being limited by range availability,” according to Aurora. The aircraft has potentially 120 hours of endurance. Its useful payload capacity is 2,600 pounds.
Aurora, based in Manassas, Va., started work on the Orion in 2007 after the Air Force Research Laboratory through contractor General Dynamics selected the design for its “Ultra Long Endurance” study program. The aircraft was chosen for a Joint Capability Technology Demonstration in 2009. Built at Aurora’s Columbus, Miss. facility, it performed its first flight on Aug. 24, 2013, staying aloft for three hours and 31 minutes. The record-setting flight in December was its 18th.
Aurora hopes to interest the Air Force in acquiring additional Orions for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. “The need for persistent surveillance in areas far from U.S. bases is a geopolitical fact of life,” said CEO John Langford. “Orion can do this at operational costs significantly below any competing system. There are also important applications for this airplane in areas such as communications relay and Internet service provision.”