The second Tier III Minus DarkStar high altitude endurance unmanned air vehicle flew today for the first time.
The vehicle took off from the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., at 6:14 a.m. (PDT). During the 44-minute flight, the vehicle achieved an altitude of approximately 5,000 feet and completed pre-programmed basic flight maneuvers. The system successfully executed a fully autonomous flight from takeoff to landing utilizing the differential Global Positioning System.
"Today's flight is the culmination of many months of work by the dedicated Lockheed Martin, Boeing and government team," said Harry Berman, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program manager for Tier III Minus. "The NASA Dryden and Edwards Air Force Base team in particular did an outstanding job supporting today's mid-week flight."
The flight test program, being conducted at National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards AFB, Calif., will evaluate basic system performance, including the high-resolution synthetic aperture radar and electro-optical payloads. At the completion of these tests, the Air Force's Aeronautical Systems Center, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, will take over management of the system and prepare for participation in the U.S. Atlantic Command-sponsored military utility assessment in 1999.
The DarkStar system is designed for aerial reconnaissance in highly defended areas by using low observable characteristics. It will operate within the current military force structure, and with existing command, control, communications, computer and intelligence equipment. It can operate at a range of 500 nautical miles from the launch site and will be able to loiter over the target area for eight hours at an altitude of more than 45,000 feet, carrying either an electro-optical or synthetic aperture radar payload.
The first DarkStar air vehicle flew for the first time on March 29, 1996. During the second flight on April 22, 1996, the vehicle crashed. Based on the conclusions of the mishap investigation, the DarkStar team modified the second air vehicle with new landing gear, redesigned the flight control software and conducted intensive simulations prior to beginning taxi tests in March 1998. Many other subsystems were also upgraded as part of the system-wide assessment conducted by the government-industry team.
"The government-industry team has worked hard over the past two years to determine the cause of the mishap and make system-wide improvements in the robustness of the aircraft and ground system," said Berman. "DarkStar offers a unique penetrating reconnaissance capability for the warfighter. The resumption of flight tests puts the program back on track."
The prime contractor team consists of the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, Palmdale, Calif.; The Boeing Co., Seattle, Wash.; and Lockheed Martin Missile and Space, Sunnyvale, Calif.
Additional information on the DarkStar program can be found on the World Wide Web at http://www.darpa.mil/haeuav/. Photographs of today's test flight will be available later today on DARPA's home page.