Project Vulture

Boeing has chosen Qinetiq to be its main technology partner for the $3.8m phase one part of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Vulture air vehicle programme.

The one-year phase covers conceptual system definition, reliability and mission success analysis, concluding with a system requirements review. Conceptual designs for sub- and full-scale demonstrators will also be carried out.

The aim of the Vulture programme is to make an airborne vehicle that can carry a 454kg, 5kW payload and have a 99 per cent probability of maintaining its on-station position for an uninterrupted period of more than five years.

Qinetiq will be expected to use the expertise it garnered from developing technologies for its high-altitude long-endurance UAV, the Zephyr.

Launched by hand, Zephyr is an ultra-lightweight carbon-fibre aircraft that flies on solar power generated by amorphous silicon rays on its wings during the day. At night it is powered by rechargeable lithium-sulphur batteries that are recharged during the day by solar power.

Currently the only systems capable of providing multiple years of coverage over a fixed area are geosynchronous satellites orbiting 35,780km above Earth.

Pat O’Neil, programme manager at Boeing High Altitude Long Endurance Systems, said: ‘Such a ‘pseudo-satellite’ system, like Vulture, could provide compelling operational advantages in terms of persistent intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communications.’