Boeing has selected QinetiQ as its key technology partner for the $3.8 million, Phase1 portion of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Vulture air vehicle programme. The Vulture is DARPA's attempt to create a new category of ultra-long-endurance aircraft.
The Vulture programme calls for developing technologies, and ultimately a vehicle, that can deliver and maintain an airborne payload on station for an uninterrupted period of more than five years.
QinetiQ's role as part of the Boeing team will be to leverage the technologies developed and demonstrated in the Zephyr high-altitude, long-endurance UAV for the DARPA Vulture programme.
Launched by hand, Zephyr is an ultra-lightweight carbon-fibre aircraft. By day it flies on solar power generated by amorphous silicon arrays no thicker than sheets of paper that cover the aircraft's wings. By night it is powered by rechargeable lithium-sulphur batteries that are recharged during the day using solar power.
"Both QinetiQ and Boeing have worked with DARPA on a number of innovative programs in the past and we welcome this important opportunity to work together to create a new long-endurance aircraft," said Simon Bennett, managing director of QinetiQ's Applied Technologies business. "Through our world-leading capabilities in solar-electric UAVs I am confident that we will make an important contribution to the Vulture program."
The Vulture vehicle is intended to be capable of carrying a 1,000-pound, five-kilowatt payload and have a 99 per cent probability of maintaining its on-station position. Currently the only systems capable of providing multiple years of coverage over a fixed area are geosynchronous satellites orbiting 22,233 miles above Earth.
"Such a 'pseudo-satellite' system, like Vulture, could provide compelling operational advantages in terms of persistent intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communications," said Pat O'Neil, programme manager for Boeing High Altitude Long Endurance Systems.
The year-long Phase1 will cover conceptual system definition and formal reliability and mission success analysis, concluding with a System Requirements Review. It also requires conceptual designs for sub- and full-scale demonstrators.