Last January, Vanilla Aircraft's VA001 set the world record for the longest unmanned internal combustion powered flight in history. Now the 36-ft (11-m) wingspan, diesel-powered drone has broken that record by staying aloft for 5 days, 1 hour and 24 minutes. After flying in a circular orbit for over 7,000 mi (11,265 km), it touched down with three days of fuel still in its tanks.

The successful aerial marathon was the tenth flight of the VA001. For the test, the ultra-endurance heavy fuel aircraft took off from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on October 18 under remote pilot control before switching over to autopilot. It then maintained an altitude of 5,000 ft in a 2-mile orbit until it landed on October 23.

Designed for ultra-endurance operations for military and civilian customers, the VA001 is the product of a five-person startup in Falls Church, Virginia, and is intended to demonstrate a generic unmanned aircraft that can be customized for different needs. In addition, it requires much less logistical support than comparable drones.

The VA001 has 1.1 ft³ (31 liters) of space for payloads of up to 30 lb (13.6 kg), for which the system can provide 800 Watts. It is designed to stay aloft for up to 10 days at altitudes up to 15,000 feet (4,600 m) at a top speed of 75 knots (86 mph, 139 km/h), though it can loiter at 55 knots (63 mph, 102 km/h).

Possible payloads can include electro-optical and infrared imagers, synthetic aperture radar, SIGINT systems, communications nodes for agricultural mapping, disaster zone imaging, cellular network and internet distribution, and infrastructure monitoring missions. For the latest test, it carried a NASA multispectral imager and a Department of Defense sensor and radio.

After the successful endurance test, Vanilla Aircraft announced that production of the VA001 will proceed in the coming months.

"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," said Vanilla Aircraft CEO Tim Heely. "We are excited to bring a new affordable, easily sustainable capability to the quickly expanding Unmanned System environment."

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