NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, Va. The VA001 unmanned aerial system (UAS) from Vanilla Aircraft (Falls Church, Virginia) set a record when it landed at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Monday, October 23: The long-duration UAS took off from the Wallops runway on October 18 and flew for 121 hours and 24 minutes. Vanilla Aircraft reports that the flight was the longest unmanned internal combustion-powered flight in history.
Moreover, according to Vanilla Aircraft officials, the unmanned flight was the third-longest nonstop, unrefueled, and heavier than air flight in history. The 36-foot wingspan, diesel-powered aircraft — after traversing more than 7,000 miles over the north end of Wallops Island — landed with three days of fuel remaining on board, having successfully met its goal of a five-day flight.
Vanilla Aircraft test director Jeremy Novara stated, “Previous flights had already validated our performance predictions, but this flight really demonstrated the reliability and ease of operation that a low-cost persistent unmanned aircraft can obtain.”
The Office of Naval Research-funded flight carried multiple payloads, including a NASA-furnished multispectral imager and a Department of Defense-furnished sensor and radio; Vanilla Aircraft designers and engineers say that the flight showed the practical use of an ultra-endurance heavy fuel aircraft with a logistics footprint a fraction of those required by other current UASs.
Vanilla company documents say that the ultralong endurance capability of the VA001 shows the viability of persistent operations for both commercial and military applications. The company expects that subsequent flights will demonstrate the capability to carry classified and unclassified payloads, including electro-optical and infrared imagers, synthetic aperture radar, SIGINT systems, communications nodes, and more. Likely commercial applications include agricultural mapping, disaster-zone imaging, cellular network and internet distribution, and infrastructure monitoring.