The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has concluded the initial flight tests of the Ultra Long Endurance Aircraft Platform (Ultra LEAP) unmanned aerial system (UAS).
The Ultra LEAP aircraft is equipped with a customisable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) suite to enable long-endurance missions.
AFRL conducted a flight demonstration that lasted for two and a half days from 9 to 11 December.
The continuous flight demonstration was the last in a series of flight tests that started in February at a military test facility in Utah.
The airforce intends to undertake further flight tests in the future to showcase enhanced flight endurance of the UAS.
AFRL commander major general William Cooley said: “As the airforce balances current readiness with long-term modernisation, Ultra LEAP represents an affordable approach that supports both existing and future force needs.
He added that the ‘enhanced UAS capabilities along with the cost savings offers the military a winning solution’.
Ultra LEAP is based on a cost-effective, high-performance commercial airframe that was modified to enable autonomous takeoff and landing capabilities.
The US Air Force said: “Ultra LEAP also features secure, easy to use navigation employing anti-jam GPS and full global operational access via a satellite-based command and control and high-rate ISR data relay link.”
AFRL project engineer Paul Litke stated that the high-endurance UAS will contribute to mission success on the battlefield.
Litke added that the use of commercial off-the-shelf components in Ultra LEAP will provide significant cost benefits for the service.
The aircraft is expected to be available for operational deployment as early as 2020.
The automation feature of the system allows for reduced operator training needs and lower operating costs.
AFRL Center for Rapid Innovation director Dr Alok Das said: “Accomplished after only 10 months of development by our AFRL / industry team, today’s 2.5-day Ultra LEAP mission is a significant milestone in solving the tyranny of distance problem for ISR systems.
“It will provide immediate benefit to our warfighters while at the same time paving the path for future low-cost, multi-day endurance ISR systems.”
The approach of using the commercial aircraft market offers reduced manufacturing and spares costs for the platform.