AFRL Successfully Tests Next-Generation, Long Endurance RPA

The Air Force Research Laboratory recently conducted a successful test of a next-generation, customizable remotely piloted aircraft, flying the drone for about two and a half days earlier this month.

AFRL’s Center for Rapid Innovation flew the Ultra Long Endurance Aircraft Platform (Ultra LEAP) continuously from Dec. 9 to Dec. 11 after months of testing and developing, which began in February at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. The aircraft is a commercial airframe converted into a fully automated system, including autonomous takeoff and landing, with a customizable suite of surveillance tools, according to an AFRL release.

“As the Air Force balances current readiness with long-term modernization, Ultra LEAP represents an affordable approach that supports both existing and future force needs,” AFRL Commander Maj. Gen. William Cooley said in the release.

The RPA has “easy to use navigation” with anti-jam GPS and satellite-based command and control and a high-rate data relay link, according to AFRL.

The laboratory claims the aircraft could be ready for operations as early as next year. It builds on the lab’s previous LEAP program, which can fly up to 40 hours. To date, that system has completed more than 18,000 combat hours with one of the lowest mishap rates and smallest crew size of any similar operational aircraft, according to AFRL.