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October 26, 2017 Vanilla Aircraft's VA001 Completes Five-Day Flight

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA -- 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 landed with three days of fuel remaining on board, successfully meeting its goal of a five day flight. 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.

Imagined, designed, built and operated by a five-person start-up out of Falls Church, Virginia, the VA001's success demonstrates the capability of a small, agile company to build a generic, i.e. "vanilla", unmanned air system that can be customized to fit user needs. The aircraft carries up to 1.1 cubic feet of payload, with a 30 pound weight limit and provides 800 watts of power. Built to operate for up to ten days at altitudes up to 15,000 feet with a dash speed of 75 knots and loiter speeds of around 55 knots, the VA001 will enable users to devise many missions capitalizing on its open design.

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 Wednesday morning, October 18, was switched to autopilot control, and quietly orbited above Wallops Island's Virginia Space UAS Runway at 5,000 feet in a 2-mile orbit, maintaining the flight path to be flown with another soon to be installed camera system. On Monday, October 23, it made a successful autonomous landing back at NASA Wallops. The flight was completed under funding from the Office of Naval Research.

Chief Engineer Neil Boertlein said, "As exciting as this milestone is, the flight itself was quite boring. The plane did what it was designed to do and landed ready to go right back into the air again."

Test Director Jeremy Novara added, "Previous flights had already validated our performance predictions, but this flight really demonstrated the reliability and ease of operation that a low-cost persistent unmanned aircraft can obtain."

The ultra-long endurance capability of the VA001 will allow persistent operations for both commercial and military applications. It is expected that additional flights will demonstrate the capability to carry classified and unclassified payloads, including electro-optical and infrared imagers, synthetic aperture radar, SIGINT systems, communications nodes and more. Likely commercial applications include agricultural mapping, disaster zone imaging, cellular network and internet distribution, and infrastructure monitoring.

Tim Heely, CEO, stated, "We have begun to fully demonstrate the viability of this ultra-long endurance aircraft system and are anxious to test new payloads and realize capabilities heretofore unimagined. We are excited to bring a new affordable, easily sustainable capability to the quickly expanding Unmanned System environment."

The company plans to begin production in the coming months, and is open to teaming with payload providers.

Launch of the VA001

The VA001 is towed aloft, October 18, 2017. Photo credit NASA/Terry Zaperach

Flight crew

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

January 3, 2017 Vanilla Aircraft Claims World Record with 56-hour Flight

Vanilla Aircraft, LLC today announced that on December 2, their VA001 unmanned aircraft system (UAS) completed a non-stop, unrefueled 56-hour flight. The flight was submitted for a world duration record for combustion-powered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the 50-500 kg subclass (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Class U-1.c Group 1). A representative from the National Aeronautic Association was present to witness the record.

The flight, planned as a 120-hour mission, was ended early due to forecasted severe icing and range restrictions. However, the airplane landed with enough JP-8 fuel on board for an additional 90 hours of flying, or enough for a total of six days of flight.

The flight was supported by the technology innovation investments of the Department of Defense’s Rapid Reaction Technology Office (RRTO) and DARPA-funded efforts through Naval Air System Command (NAVAIR 4.11 – Patuxent River). Originating and ending at Las Cruces International Airport, the flight was conducted under the authority of the New Mexico State University UAS test site designated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“This effort represents tremendous and unprecedented coordination among civil, defense, academic, and private industry to bring a heretofore only imagined capability to reality,” said Vanilla Aircraft CEO Rear Adm. Timothy Heely (ret.).

The airplane carried 20 pounds of actual and simulated payload, flying at 6,500 to 7,500 feet above mean sea level (MSL), and was a further step for the VA001 towards demonstrating the system’s objective performance of carrying a 30-pound payload for 10 days at an altitude of 15,000 feet. The payload included a NAVAIR-provided relay and operated continuously throughout the flight to demonstrate functionality out to the maximum range. The airplane also carried a NASA-provided multispectral imaging payload as a demonstration of Earth science and agricultural remote sensing.

“The VA001 has transformational potential, providing a scalable aerial system solution without increasing personnel or operating costs. The ability of a low-cost platform to provide persistent surveillance, battlefield pattern of life, or aerial mesh network relay, in a responsive and robust manner, and without forward basing, does not currently exist,” said co-founder and chief engineer Neil Boertlein.

Vanilla Aircraft is also planning a groundbreaking role for the VA001 in commercial applications, especially in agriculture. “The VA001 would be a cost-effective option for widespread and regular low-level surveying. We could fill a wide cost and payload-capability market gap between small electric and large military unmanned aircraft, which is perfect for many commercial applications,” says co-founder and program manager Jeremy Novara. Vanilla is currently exploring strategic partnerships and equity financing to expand into this market. | DARPA's article on the flight

Night timelapse of VA001 flight pattern

May 4, 2016 Vanilla Aircraft Wins AUVSI Start-up Showdown

Vanilla Aircraft beat over 90 entrants to win the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International's (AUVSI) Start-up Showdown, a competition between small businesses at AUVSI's XPONENTIAL 2016 industry convention in New Orleans. Following a closed-door session in which the four venture capital and industry judges narrowed the field to three finalists, founder Jeremy Novara presented the business case for the VA001 aircraft in a session open to all convention addendees. Impressed by the VA001's potential appications in both the military and commercial sectors, and by the system maturity as proven through flight testing, judges Jonathan Downey of Airware, Gareth Keane of Qualcomm Ventures, Jonathan Rubin of Westbury Group and Muzzammil Zaveri of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers awarded Vanilla the top prize, including $15000 and an invitation to AUVSI's investment conference in San Francisco this July. | AUVSI's article on the win

Jeremy Novara with Judges

May 1, 2016 Tim Heely Joins Vanilla Aircraft as CEO

Vanilla Aircraft, LLC today announced that Rear Adm. Timothy Heely (ret.) has joined Vanilla as the company's new Chief Executive Officer. "I am excited to be a part of the small innovative team at Vanilla." Heely said. "Together we're working to rapidly bring some unprecedented unmanned aircraft capabilities to users who need them."

Aviation has been a major part of Heely's life for over forty years. He was a naval aviator amassing over 3500 hours flying single seat tactical jets from aircraft carriers and commanded an F/A-18 squadron during the Gulf War. As a Rear Admiral in the US Navy, Heely was responsible for development, test, acquisition and sustainment of all US Navy and Marine Corps unmanned aviation from 2004 to 2008. After retiring from the Navy, he was a senior executive with Cobham plc and led its unmanned system "We are privileged to have Tim as a leader at Vanilla." said Neil Boertlein, co-founder and Chief Engineer. "Tim brings a deep understanding of user needs and business strategy that ideally compliments Vanilla's engineering expertise."

Tim Heely

April 6, 2016 VA001 Completes 25-hour Flight

Yesterday, April 5th, VA001 aircraft N240HR completed a successful and uneventful 25-hour flight, landing with several days of additional fuel still onboard. The flight, conducted in the National Airspace under New Mexico State University's FAA Certificate of Authorization, was the aircraft's first overnight flight and marks a major milestone on the path to proving out the system's full takeoff weight and endurance capabilities. The flight was conducted as part of a DARPA-sponsored effort through NAVAIR. | NMSU's article on the flight

night flight