January 5, 2018 9:50:41 AM
Aurora Flight Sciences has been awarded a $48 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to further developing its record-setting Orion unmanned aircraft, company officials confirmed Thursday.
The new Air Force contract funds continued development with a version of Orion that will be suitable for deployment worldwide. Work on the contract will be performed in Columbus and at the company's headquarters in Manassas, Virginia.
The contract is the first for Aurora since it was purchased by the Boeing Corp. in October.
"I am pleased that the Air Force continues to have confidence in developing Aurora's ultra-long endurance Orion military drone," said U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), a senior member of the Senate's Armed Services committee. "Orion will provide vital information to military commanders and our troops once it is deployed. Congress should approve the proposed FY18 funding for these aircraft, so that an entire deployable system will be coming off the line in the next 18 months."
Company officials declined to comment when contacted Thursday.
Orion first set a record for flight duration in 2014 with an 80-hour, 2-minute and 52-second flight. Under the contract, Aurora expects to extend that flight duration to more than 100 hours while carrying a payload of 1,000 pounds or more. Work on the Orion, a high-performance, twin-engine aircraft, began in 2006.
In addition to the Air Force, Aurora Flight Sciences also has contracts for unmanned aircraft development for NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Most recently, the company has worked on the development of its LightningStrike XV-24A vertical take-off and landing craft, an autonomous military aircraft that is being funded by the Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force.
Aurora has designed and flown more than 30 pilot-free aircraft during its nearly 20 years in operation.
The company arrived in Mississippi in 2003, operating out of the Mississippi State University's Raspet Flight Sciences Laboratory in Starkville. It opened the first of what would be three buildings at the Lowndes County Industrial Park in 2005. Two new buildings (2008 and 2013) expanded the facility to roughly 19,000 square feet. Today the company employs almost 100 people.
In addition to Columbus, the company has another production plant in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and research/development centers in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Dayton, Ohio; and Mountain View, California; as well as a European office in Luzen, Switzerland.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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