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New pilotless aeroplane completes flight tests in the US

PUBLISHED: 10:02 10 July 2015 | UPDATED: 10:02 10 July 2015

The Aurora Centaur OPA (Optionally Piloted Aircraft) on its test flight  © Aurora Flight Sciences

The Aurora Centaur OPA (Optionally Piloted Aircraft) on its test flight © Aurora Flight Sciences

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Aurora Flight Sciences has announced that at the end of June 2015 the company's Centaur OPA (Optionally Piloted Aircraft) flew multiple unmanned flights from Griffiss International Airport in Rome, New York.

The successful test flights were conducted in full collaboration and compliance with Oneida County’s Griffiss UAS Test Site, which is managed by Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR). The flights marked the first time any large scale, fixed-wing aircraft has flown at either of six FAA-designated unmanned aircraft test sites in the US.

“Having Centaur lead the way in the US as the first large aircraft to fly in one of the FAA-approved test sites is an important milestone for our company, Griffiss, and the FAA,” says Dr John S Langford, chairman and CEO of Aurora, “This aircraft is coming into high demand from a range of customers, both military and commercial interests, in the US and abroad. The flights conducted at the Griffiss site enable our company to offer these customers an aircraft that has been at the leading edge of efforts to integrate unmanned aircraft into the US national airspace.”

Aurora’s Centaur OPA is designed to be a flexible, cost-effective airborne solution to a range of military and commercial unmanned aircraft requirements. The company says the manned flight option enables access to airports worldwide without the need for large transport aircraft. Conversion to the unmanned flight mode, which can apparently be accomplished in under four hours, provides the flexibility needed for a wide range of applications, it says. It is considered that Centaur’s small footprint, based on the Diamond DA42, could be useful in low profile intelligence and surveillance operations.

“Global interest in the Centaur has increased dramatically in recent months,” says Langford. “And a number of customers have expressed interest in the one-two punch of combining Centaur’s medium altitude, long-endurance capability with unique expertise acquired on other Aurora unmanned aircraft programs.”

In December, 2014 Aurora’s Orion UAS set a world unmanned aircraft endurance flight record of 80 hours. The previous record was 30.5 hours, set by a Global Hawk UAS in 2001.

“Our proven long-endurance, medium altitude platforms are ready for action, whether deployed by the military for ISR missions, or in the skies meeting the needs of a wide range of other security, scientific or commercial applications,” says Langford.

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