U.S. Air Force Awards Contract to Aurora Flight Sciences for Orion UAS

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) has awarded a new $48 million contract to Aurora Flight Sciences for the continued development of the Orion UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System).

Orion is a twin-engine high performance UAS that can stay aloft over 100 hours at a time with payloads in excess of 1,000 pounds. Development of the Orion started in 2006 and its first flight was in August 2013. In December 2014, the Orion established the current UAS world endurance record with an 80-hour, 2-minute and 52-second flight.

The new contract funds the development of a certified version of Orion that will be suitable for deployment anywhere in the world. The work will be performed in Columbus, Mississippi, and Manassas, Virginia.

Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing Company headquartered in Manassas, Virginia, has more than 550 employees and operates in six locations, including research and development centers in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Luzern, Switzerland; manufacturing facilities in Bridgeport, West Virginia, and Columbus, Mississippi; and offices in Dayton, Ohio, and Mountain View, California.

Aurora Flight Sciences Orion

The Orion is a Medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by Aurora Flight Sciences.

Its ferry range is projected to be 13,000 nmi (15,000 mi; 24,000 km), longer than even the RQ-4 Global Hawk, which enables a time-on-station capability ranging from 113 hours at 550 nmi (630 mi; 1,020 km) to 47 hours at 3,000 nmi (3,500 mi; 5,600 km).

With a mission range possible to over 9,500 nmi (10,900 mi; 17,600 km), the Orion can be positioned much further from the patrol area, reducing costs that would otherwise be needed to transport an aircraft to a closer main operating base; unit price is expected to be less than the Reaper.

The aircraft has an empty weight of 5,170 lb (2,350 kg) and carries 5,000 lb (2,300 kg) of fuel. It has the capacity to carry 2,500 lb (1,100 kg) of sensors and weapons spread through the airframe, able to support 950 lb (430 kg) in the nose, 850 lb (390 kg) in the aft fuselage, and 1,200 lb (540 kg) under the wings.

The base sensor is the Raytheon MTS-B electro-optical/infrared turret, but options can include a ground moving target indication (GMTI) radar under the nose, a multi-camera wide-area surveillance sensor in the aft bay, and external fuel tanks and Hellfire missiles under the wings.

Top speed is slow at 90 knots (100 mph; 170 km/h) by design to balance fuel efficiency and power consumption with weather tolerance. Propulsion comes from a pair of Austro Engine AE300 diesel engines rather than more expensive and less fuel efficient gas turbines.

Although it is designed to fly for five days carrying standard payload weight, it could fly for a week with a lighter payload.

Aurora Flight Sciences

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