Ultra-Long Endurance Drone Flies Over 1,000 Miles

Platform Aerospace’s long-endurance UAS totaled more than 65 hours in the Arctic Circle to measure environmental conditions and validate aircraft icing detection systems & mitigation By Abi Wylie / 10 Jun 2024
Ultra-Long Endurance Drone Flies Over 1,000 Miles
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Platform Aerospace’s ultra-long endurance UAS, Vanilla, has successfully completed an Arctic flight campaign for a DoD customer. Vanilla flew two flights, totaling more than 65 hours in the Arctic Circle, including operations north of the 78th parallel.

In January 2024, Vanilla flew a mission for NASA to the inland sheet of Greenland, carrying a sensor provided by the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS). 

In September 2023, the Vanilla Ultra-Long Endurance UAS carried a metrological sensor suite to measure environmental conditions in the Arctic and to validate Vanilla’s aircraft icing detection systems and mitigation strategy.

This mission was operated from Deadhorse, Alaska, with Vanilla flying over 500 miles toward the North Pole and back, for a round-trip of over 1,000 miles in 17 hours. Afterward, Vanilla continued data collection, using multiple 200-mile laps, for another 22 hours. 

This was a single un-refueled flight of 39 total hours. A second flight of 26 hours increased Vanilla’s flight time to 65 hours operating north of the 70th parallel. 

During the flights, cloud and icing warnings were provided in real-time to the UAS operators. The Atmospheric Sensing and Prediction Sensor (ASAPS) from PEMDAS Technologies & Innovation, takes high-quality measurements of pressure, temperature, and humidity to provide icing potential to our UAS operators. 

This system was invaluable for both the science objectives and for giving operators confidence in the actual conditions around the aircraft.

Takeoffs were performed under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) with a chase escort to warning area airspace. On both flights, conditions at the airfield unexpectedly deteriorated to Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC). 

In one instance, Vanilla stayed on mission for an additional 22 hours awaiting better weather before filing an Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flight plan for the area navigation (RNAV) approach with the assistance of the FAA. 

This event illustrates the power of Vanilla’s Ultra-Long Endurance to mitigate bad weather and demonstrated integration with the processes and procedures of the National Airspace System (NAS).

Vanilla is an Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSD(R&E)) Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve (RDER) Program.

Dr. Dan Edwards, Chief Technology Officer of Platform Aerospace, said; “Vanilla’s performance is ideal for environmental monitoring missions, such as this demonstration of flying multiple sensors to the polar ice cap.”

Posted by Abi Wylie Connect & Contact