May 23, 2008 Gizmag first reported on Boeing’s A160T Hummingbird Unmanned Rotorcraft back in 2005 and again in 2007 when the craft made its first flight. Now the craft has come very close to achieving the original 20 hour flight times envisioned (and unofficially broken a world record for unmanned aerial vehicles along the way) by remaining in the air for 18.7 hours.
The unofficial endurance world record (the company has lodged an application to make it official) claimed by Boeing for the performance of its rotorcraft is for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) weighing between 1,102 and 5,511 pounds (500 to 2,500 kilograms). According to Boeing Advanced Systems’ A160T program manager, Jim Martin, the team didn’t set out to establish a world record, but it was a great accomplishment. “This 18-hour endurance flight is the culmination of thousands of hours of systems, ground and flight testing. The aircraft performed flawlessly, flying un-refueled longer than any other current unmanned rotorcraft,” he said. During the flight at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground in southwestern Arizona, the turbine-powered aircraft carried a 300-pound internal payload at altitudes up to 15,000 feet, landing with better than 90 minutes of fuel in reserve.
The A160T’s ability to operate autonomously for extremely long durations while carrying heavy payloads means it will be used for a variety of military applications. The aircraft used in the 18-hour test was one of the A160Ts Boeing is building for customers including the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the US Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate and US Naval Air Systems Command. The same aircraft also achieved another flight milestone this month by successfully completing hover-out-of-ground-effect (HOGE) demonstrations at altitudes of 15,000 and 20,000 feet. The HOGE demonstration flight lasted 2.9 hours, including hovering for more than seven minutes.
The A160T is an autonomous unmanned aircraft, measuring 35 feet long with a 36-foot rotor diameter. Eventually its designed aim for it to fly at more than 140 knots with a ceiling of 20,000 to 30,000 feet (high hover capability up to 15,000 feet) for more than 20 hours.
Boeing has submitted an application to the National Aeronautic Association, the U.S. sanctioning body for the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), to officially claim the world record. FAI establishes rules for the control and certification of world aeronautical and astronautical records.