DOD Wants to Stay Aloft For 5 Years -- Non-stop

Vultures can stay aloft a long time without expending a lot of energy by riding thermals. So it makes sense that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has code named a program to develop an aircraft that can stay airborne for five years “The Vulture Air Vehicle Program.”

DARPA, the Pentagon's research arm, released a solicitation notice Wednesday that asks industry to provide ideas for developing a 1,000-pound aircraft that can stay aloft for five years with a 99 percent-plus probability.

DARPA did not define the mission of the aircraft, but it probably includes using it as a way to gather signals intelligence or as a photo reconnaissance platform.

The research agency appears open to almost any idea that will help it achieve this goal but did rule out any aircraft powered by radiology or those that use any form of buoyant flight. That rules out blimps or dirigibles.

Based on the limited amount of information in the solicitation notice, DARPA appears to be leaning towards an electric aircraft which derives its energy from solar or fuel cells or a remotely refueled airplane. DARPA said,

architectures selected and the specific approaches taken by the Offerors will determine the range of technical areas that are developed, including, but not limited to, environmental energy collection, high specific energy storage, extremely efficient propulsion systems, precision robotic refueling, autonomous materiel transfer, extremely efficient vehicle structural design, and mitigation of environmentally-induced loads.

The electric powered option makes AeroEnvironment Inc., based in Monrovia, Calif., a likely candidate for the job. The company developed its “Helios” fuel and solar-cell powered flying wing for NASA, which in 2001 set an unofficial altitude record for a non-rocket powered aircraft of 96,863 feet. (View image.) The Helios developed structural problems on a test flight off the Hawaiian island of Kauai and crashed on a test flight in 2003.

Another likely bidder for the DARPA Vulture is Scaled Composites Inc., Mojave, Calif., headed by Burt Rutan, who flew around the word in 1986 in one of the company’s aircraft without refueling. (View image.)

Neither AeroEnvironment nor Scaled Composites responded to a query from Tech Insider by deadline. DARPA also could not comment by deadline.

DARPA wants anyone with a good idea for the Vulture project to soar into industry day planned for June 7 at the Westin Arlington Gateway, Fitzgerald Ballroom (2nd Floor), 801 N. Glebe Road Arlington, Va. Just follow the circling birds.