Drone Sets Endurance World Record

Days-long UAV flight was almost completely autonomous.

Vanilla Drone Endurance Record
The VA001 flew autonomously for nearly 56 continuous hours, setting an endurance record for UAV flight.Vanilla Aircraft

Drone proliferation doesn’t always mean worrying about collisions between UAVs, people and manned aircraft. Sometimes drone research has its own special silver lining. Like setting endurance records. Falls Church, Virginia-based Vanilla Aircraft’s VA001 set a world endurance record – nearly 56 continuous hours – on November 30, 2016.

The record focused on combustion-powered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the 50-500 kg subclass (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Class U-1.c Group 1). The diesel-powered VA001, carrying 20 pounds of actual and simulated payload, departed New Mexico State University’s Unmanned Air Systems Flight Test Center near Las Cruces International Airport and climbed to its mission holding altitude, between 6,500 and 7,500 feet, where it remained for more than two days. The company says the ultimate performance flight will carry a 30-pound payload for 10 days at an altitude of 15,000 feet.

Vanilla Drone VA001
A closer look at a pair of VA001 drones.Vanilla Aircraft

The record-setting November flight was originally planned to last 120 hours but ended early due to forecast severe icing and range restrictions. However, the UAV landed with enough JP-8 fuel on board for an additional 90 hours of flying, or enough for a total of six additional days of flight.

Except for takeoff and landing, the VA001 flight operated autonomously the entire time, although observers were on hand to wrestle back control had it been necessary.

A representative from the National Aeronautic Association was present to witness the record.