Manassas company’s record-setting unmanned aircraft gets Air Force funding

WASHINGTON — Manassas, Virginia-based Aurora Flight Sciences, acquired by Boeing in November for an undisclosed sum, has been awarded a $48 million U.S. Air Force contract to continue development of its Orion Unmanned Aircraft System.

Orion is a twin-engine, high-performance UAS that will fly for more than 100 hours at a time, with payloads in excess of 1,000 pounds.

Aurora began development of the Orion in 2006, with its first flight in 2013. It set the current UAS world record for flight endurance in late 2014 with an 80-hour, 2-minute and 52-second flight.

The new Air Force contract funds continued development with a certified version of Orion that will be suitable for deployment worldwide. Work will be performed at Aurora facilities in Manassas and in Columbus, Mississippi.

Boeing’s acquisition of Aurora Flight Sciences gave it a company with government contracts to design the planes of the future. It is now part of Boeing Engineering, Test & Technology, though it continues to operate as an independent company.

Aurora is developing manned and unmanned aircraft. In addition to its Air Force contract, it has contracts for developing aircraft concepts with both NASA and the FAA.

One of its designs, the D8 concept, is a commercial aircraft whose design departs from the traditional tube-and-wing design and would be 50 percent more fuel-efficient than current commercial aircraft.

Aurora has more than 550 employees, and in addition to Manassas and Mississippi it operates in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Bridgeport, West Virginia; Dayton, Ohio; Mountain View, California; and Lucerne, Switzerland.

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