While the US Air Force has been so far resistant to buy ultrahigh-endurance drones, a recent multi-million dollar investment in the technology could be seen as a sign that the service is changing its mind about its requirements. Last week, Aurora Flight Sciences announced it had been awarded a $48 million contract by the Air Force to create a certified version of its Orion medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAS.
The Orion holds the world record for the longest flight performed by a drone. In December 2014, the UAS stayed aloft for more than 80 hours without needing to land or be refueled, but Aurora claims the aircraft’s endurance can stretch even longer: up to 100 hours with payloads weighing more than 1,000 pounds. However, Aurora, a subsidiary of Boeing, has struggled to get the Air Force to adopt the technology.
It will take about two years to certify Orion. Should the Air Force then decide to acquire the system, it would be ready for low rate initial production, said Aurora’s CEO and founder, John Langford. According to Defense News, Boeing could position the Orion in the international market as a lower-cost alternative to its P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft or as a complementary capability, for Poseidon customers like the US Navy.
[Source: Defense News]