US surveillance UAV exploits British know-how

UK defence firm QinetiQ has been named by Boeing as its key technology partner in the first stage of a project to develop an ultra-long endurance aircraft for the US government.

The $3.8m phase one of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Vulture air vehicle programme will take advantage of QinetiQ's knowledge in solar-powered electric unmanned air vehicles. The project aims to create a vehicle that can remain in flight for more than five years carrying a 450kg, 5kW payload.

The year-long phase one covers conceptual system definition, and formal reliability and mission success analysis, concluding with a system requirements review. It also requires conceptual designs for demonstrator vehicles.

QinetiQ will be exploiting technologies developed for Zephyr, a high-altitude, long-endurance ultra-lightweight carbon-fibre UAV. Launched by hand, Zephyr flies during the day on solar power generated by amorphous silicon arrays no thicker than sheets of paper that cover its fuselage. By night it is powered by rechargeable lithium-sulphur batteries that are recharged during the day using solar power.

Vulture would provide an alternative to geosynchronous satellites for carrying out long-term surveillance over fixed areas, said Pat O'Neil, Boeing programme manager for high-altitude long endurance systems. “A 'pseudo-satellite' system, like Vulture, could provide compelling operational advantages in terms of persistent intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communications,” he said.

Simon Bennett, managing director of QinetiQ's Applied Technologies business commented: "Both QinetiQ and Boeing have worked with DARPA on a number of innovative programmes in the past and we welcome this important opportunity to work together to create a new long-endurance aircraft.”

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