Wednesday, 05 Mar, 2008 Technology

Vulture - The Unmanned Aircraft Able to Stay in the Air for 5 Years


Officials from Flight Global stated that DARPA will probably sign a contract to create an unmanned aircraft that is able to stay in the air for about 5 years at a time. The representatives from DARPA characterize their project, entitled "Vulture," as a "persistent pseudo-satellite capability in an aircraft package." Generally speaking the aircraft is able to fly over a single area, communicating or performing analysis for years at a time.

Having such grand goals the company has to overcome some serious barriers. One of the major obstacles is linked with the fact that designers have to figure out the way to supply power to such an aircraft during the long missions. In addition it is worth mentioning that the aircraft will carry a 1000 pound (450 kg) payload in terrible winds at an altitude of 60,000 to 90,000 feet. In regard to the design of the aircraft, it will probably be the one seen in the picture, developed by NASA, however, there is no certain time table on when the craft will actually be ready.

US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency looks forward to push the limits of unmanned aviation to extremes. The latest UAV project of DARPA currently raises eyebrows.

"We want to completely change the paradigm of how we think of aircraft," stated Daniel Newman, who holds the post of Vulture project manager. "Aviation has a perfect record - we've never left one up there. We will attempt to break that record," he added.

"The ability to "close the business case" on an aircraft that could be launched and then not maintained or brought home for five years would be a "paradigm shift. We would no longer define an aircraft by the launch - recover - maintain - launch cycle," outlined Newman.

Besides problems with providing power to the craft, engineers are working on maximizing aero-structural efficiency and avoiding the deterioration of materials during their long-time exposure to stratospheric flight.

Basically the aircraft operates like a satellite, which is, however, not regulated by orbital mechanics. "It could be positioned over the battle, at 65,000ft versus 260 miles," outlined DARPA's Wade Pulliam. According to Pulliam, the Vulture is a pseudo-satellite, the operation of which in the stratosphere and not in the low Earth orbit would give a 65 dB upgrading in communications capability and considerably increase onboard sensor resolution.

Technology has come a long way in the past few decades and the advances don't appear to be slowing down anytime soon.  From laptops and cellphones to the advent of Internet communications, we are moving toward a brave new world of possibilities.  Even buying a new computer is tricky, since it'll probably be outdated by the time you open the box!

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