In January this year, Vanilla Aircraft’s VA001 set the world record for longest internal combustion drone flight in history. It flew for 56 hours straight. That record has now been broken by the same 36ft (11m) wingspan, diesel-powered unmanned aircraft that stayed in the air for 5 days, 1 hour and 24 minutes. After it flew in an orbit for more than 7,000 miles, it landed with still more than 3 days of fuel in its tanks.
The VA001 ultra-endurance drone
On October 18, the ultra-endurance drone took off from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia under remote pilot control before switching to autopilot. Then it maintained a 2-mile orbit for five days at an altitude of 5,000 ft, until it landed on October 23. This was the tenth official flight of the VA0001.
The VA001 drone is an ultra-endurance aircraft available for both military and civilian operations. The drone is the product of a five-person startup in Falls Church in Virginia. The demonstration’s purpose is to show that the aircraft can be customized for different needs and requires much less logistical support than comparable unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
Various payloads are possible
Vanilla’s VA001 has 1.1 cubic feet (31 liters) of cargo space of up to 30 lbs (13.6kg) and the aircraft can provide up to 800 Watts if required. The drone is designed to stay aloft for up to ten days at altitudes of up to 15,000 feet at a top speed of 75 knots (86mph or 139km/h).
Possible payloads for the VA001 can be electro-optical and infrared cameras, radars and communications nodes for agricultural mapping, disaster zone imaging or cellular network and internet distribution. For this particular test, the drone carried a NASA multispectral imager and a Department of Defense sensor and radio.
After this successful endurance test, Vanilla Aircraft announced that the production of the VA001 drone will start in the coming months.
“We have begun to fully demonstrate the viability of this ultra-long endurance aircraft system and are anxious to test new payloads and realize capabilities heretofore unimagined,” said Vanilla Aircraft CEO Tim Heely. “We are excited to bring a new affordable, easily sustainable capability to the quickly expanding Unmanned System environment.”