Flying from December 9th to December 11th, the ultra long endurance aircraft platform (Ultra LEAP) successfully completed the continuous flight demonstration at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. Undertaken by The Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Center for Rapid Innovation (CRI), the demonstration was the culmination of a 10 month project which began in February 2019.
Displaying increased flight endurance, the UAS was equipped to support extended Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance missions (ISR).
Crucially the Ultra LEAP has been converted from a high-performance, cost-effective, sport-class commercial airframe. This leveraging of the commercial aircraft market offers considerable cost saving advantages to the U.S Air Force in the long term. The Ultra LEAP is a fully automated system equipped with:
- Autonomous take-off and landing capabilities
- Secure, easy to use navigation
- Anti-jam GPS
- Full global operational access via a satellite-based command and control
- High-rate ISR data relay link
Speaking of the AFRL-CRI project, AFRL commander Maj. Gen. William Cooley said “As the Air Force balances current readiness with long-term modernization, Ultra LEAP represents an affordable approach that supports both existing and future force needs. The enhanced UAS capabilities along with the cost savings offers the military a winning solution.”
It is thought that the Ultra LEAP, which was developed in less than 10 months from concept, could be operational in the field by 2020, and that by being unmanned, training, support crews and operating costs will all be reduced. This combined with the integration of commercial off-the-shelf components, will significantly reduce the cost of manufacture and logistical spares.
Lead AFRL project engineer Paul Litke said of the project; “Developing a UAS with this level of endurance is an incredible achievement for future warfighting and battlefield success”.
This was supported by CRI Director and Senior AFRL Scientist Dr. Alok Das, who commented; “It will provide immediate benefit to our warfighters while at the same time paving the path for future low-cost, multi-day endurance ISR systems.”