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Turbine-electric hybrid VTOL attack drone flies again

Vertical takeoff and landing make it "runway independent," turbojet makes it one of fastest robo-jets ever.

Aurora Flight Sciences Corp.

The Excalibur, a new turbine-electric hybrid propelled VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) unmanned attack drone, has successfully completed another test flight after taking on two new onboard computers last week.

Developed by Aurora Flight Sciences Corp. for the U.S. Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate and the Office of Naval Research, the Excalibur is another radical robo-craft concept vying to fill the military's burgeoning demand for specialized UAVs.

The demonstrator model, weighing in at 700 pounds, can hit 520 mph, making it one of the fastest drones around, according to the Aurora. The nearly autonomous flight control system allows operators to concentrate on finding and engaging targets instead of piloting the aircraft, according to the Manassas, Va.-based company. The Excalibur's jet-borne vertical takeoff and landing and three electric lift fans providing attitude control and hover thrust, make it "runway independent." After takeoff, it flies like a regular turbojet.


The computers were supplied by Parvus Corporation from its COTS DuraCOR 820 line, a rugged, watertight 3-inch-high, 3-pound unit, featuring a conductively cooled 1.4GHz Intel Pentium-M processor and a solid state disk pre-loaded with a Linux or Windows XP Embedded operating system image. The system will handle everything from command and control to situational awareness, according to the Salt Lake City-based company.

There's no mistaking the mini-jet's intent. The full scale model is designed to carry a 400-pound weapon load; that would be four Hellfire Missiles.