Friday, July 27, 2018

MSU Powers Vanilla Aircraft's Record-Breaking Five-Day Flight

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The flight crew with the airplane after landing, October 23, 2017. From left to right: Shannon Cardin, Daryl Perkins, Phillip Barnes, Jeremy Novara, Daniel Hatfield, Kyle Cantrell & Neil Boertlein. Photo credit NASA/Terry Zaperach

OCTOBER 26, 2017 -

After five days, one hour twenty-four minutes, and traversing over 7000 miles, Vanilla Aircraft's VA001 touched down at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, successfully completing the longest unmanned internal combustion powered flight in history. The 36-foot wingspan, diesel-powered aircraft was piloted by Kyle Cantrell, Raspet Flight Research Laboratory's Chief of UAS Flight Operations.  The MSU/RFRL team was instrumental in supporting Vanilla's record-breaking flight, handling the controls during the critical phases of takeoff and landing, along with some 40 hours of cruise flight.  The Vanilla VA-001 landed with three days of fuel remaining on board, successfully meeting its goal of a five day flight.  This was the tenth flight of the aircraft, and showed the potential of its affordable, deceptively simple-looking design. The aircraft executed a pilot-controlled takeoff on Wednesday morning, October 18, and quietly orbited above the runway at 5,000 feet in a 2-mile orbit.  Carrying multiple payloads, including a NASA-furnished multispectral imager and a DoD-furnished sensor and radio, this flight showed the practical use of an ultra-endurance heavy fuel aircraft with a logistics footprint a fraction of those required by other current unmanned air systems.  On Monday, October 23, it made a successful autonomous landing with Mr. Cantrell at the controls.


This record-breaking flight was just the latest in Raspet Flight Research Laboratory's long-history of cutting-edge research for innovative aviation applications.  RFRL specializes in large unmanned aircraft flight systems, including long-endurance, heavy payload operations that support government, civil, and academic research into innovative ways to integrate unmanned systems safely into our national airspace system.