Aurora Flight Sciences has launched an optionally piloted vehicle (OPV) based on the Diamond aircraft DA42M built by Diamond Aircraft Industries.

The DA42M is a European Aviation Safety Agency-certified twin-engine aircraft that seats four people, reaches a speed of 155kts at 14,000ft² and has an endurance of 17 hours with two people onboard.

Aurora president John Langford said that with 100 pounds of payload, the DA42M-OPV without the pilot will have an endurance of 26 hours or a radius of 1,000nm.

“The aircraft’s turbocharged engines are certified for operations up to 18,000ft and have performed at altitudes above 25,000ft,” Langford said.

The OPV will be used for ferry operations, pilot proficiency and for operation within the National Airspace System or other controlled environments.

The unmanned mode can be activated in the OPV for long-range operations and operated from a remote ground control station for missions considered too dangerous for manned aircraft.

The ground control equipment is sufficiently compact to fit within the existing DA42M cargo space and can be ferried within the aircraft to remote destinations.

The OPV system will be able to interoperate with Nato STANAG 4586 and other existing unmanned systems.

Aurora is developing and testing the avionics and flight control system for the DA42M-OPV using a company aircraft.

The OPV configuration of the Diamond aircraft will be fully developed by the third quarter of 2010.

Aurora is in discussion with several potential launch customers for the aircraft.