UAV makes record endurance flight

Vanilla Aircraft’s VA001 combustion-powered UAV has achieved a world record with a non-stop, unrefuelled 56-hour flight.


The flight of the 36-foot wingspan ultra-long endurance aircraft was submitted for a world duration record for combustion-powered UAVs in the 50-500 kg subclass. A representative from the US National Aeronautic Association was present to witness the record.

The flight was planned as a 120-hour mission but ended prematurely due to forecasted severe icing and range restrictions. Despite this, the Falls Church, Virginia-based company said the aircraft landed with enough JP-8 fuel on board for a further 90 hours in the air.

“This effort represents tremendous and unprecedented coordination among civil, defence, academic, and private industry to bring a heretofore only imagined capability to reality,” said Vanilla Aircraft CEO Rear Adm. Timothy Heely (ret.).

Taking off and landing at Las Cruces International Airport in New Mexico, the airplane carried 20 pounds of actual and simulated payload, flying at 6,500 to 7,500 feet above mean sea level. According to Vanilla, the flight represents a further step toward the VA001’s goal of carrying a 30-pound payload for 10 days at 15,000 feet.

The flight was supported by the US Department of Defence’s Rapid Reaction Technology Office and DARPA-funded efforts through Naval Air System Command (NAVAIR).

The payload included a NAVAIR relay, which operated continuously throughout the flight to demonstrate functionality out to the maximum range. The airplane also carried a multispectral imaging payload from NASA to demonstrate Earth science and agricultural remote sensing.

“The VA001 has transformational potential, providing a scalable aerial system solution without increasing personnel or operating costs. The ability of a low-cost platform to provide persistent surveillance, battlefield pattern of life, or aerial mesh network relay, in a responsive and robust manner, and without forward basing, does not currently exist,” said co-founder and chief engineer Neil Boertlein.

Vanilla Aircraft completed the first flight of the VA001 in February 2015. The aircraft launched carrying an 18-pound simulated payload and enough fuel for a 24-hour flight. Powered by an efficient heavy-fuel engine, the UAS flew autonomously at altitudes up to 6,000 feet mean sea level.