New Military Drone Passes Vertical Takeoff Test

It flies like a butterfly, and boy, will it sting a lot more than a bee.

Aurora Flight Sciences recently tested a half-scale model of its new Excalibur unmanned aerial vehicle, or "drone" to the rest of us.

Unlike the military's Predator and Reaper drones currently in use along the Afghan-Pakistani border, the Excalibur won't need a runway.

That's because it's a vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) aircraft. Like a Harrier jet, it rises straight up off the ground before using forward thrust like a regular jet.

Three horizontally mounted propellers help a tilting turbojet push the craft up, and are then stowed away as the jet drops into flight position.

The model tested on June 24 is only 13 feet long with a 10-foot wingspan, but Aurora hopes the successful flight test will help it secure additional Pentagon funding for a full-scale version with roughly twice the dimensions.

The final version should be able to cruise along at 460 mph, near the speed of sound, and carry four Hellfire missiles.

By comparison, the Predator maxes out at 135 mph and carries two Hellfires. The Reaper does about 300 mph, but can carry up to 14 Hellfires, or a combination of Hellfires and laser-guided bombs.

• Click here to watch the flight-test video.

• Click here for the Excalibur page on the Aurora Web site.

• Click here for a report on the flight test in Aviation Week.