At New Mexico State University’s Unmanned Air Systems Flight Test Center the Vanilla Aircraft VA001 UAV drone took off for a record breaking flight. Vanilla, a propeller-driven UAV, took off on November 30, 2016 and safely landed 56 hours later on December 2nd. The UAV maintained an altitude between 6,500 feet and 7,500 feet and averaged 57 knots according to the announcement.
The National Aeronautic Association later confirmed this was the longest flight in its class (50 kg-500 kg subclass FAI Class U-1.c Group 1), the fourth overall longest flight for any UAV, and the 11th longest flight for any airplane of any type.
Even more impressive was that the Vanilla had more than half of its fuel left when it landed. The current design allows the Vanilla to carry a payload of 30 pounds while maintaining an altitude of 15,000 feet for up to 10 days without refueling. The only reason the flight could not go on longer was because of inclement weather conditions.
“This record-breaking flight demonstrated the feasibility of designing a low-cost UAV able to take off from one side of a continent, fly to the other, perform its duties for a week, and come back—all on the same tank of fuel,” said Jean-Charles Ledé, DARPA program manager.
While UAVs may be often associated with surveillance or spying, this is not their only purpose. In a statement by Vanilla Aircraft, the VA001 carried a “NASA-provided multispectral imaging payload as a demonstration of Earth science and agricultural remote sensing.” Also, both DARPA and Facebook have previously announced using drones for communications or mesh networks.
Co-Founder and Chief Engineer Neil Boertlein of Vanilla Aircraft said “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,”