A record endurance flight by a modified Lockheed Martin Stalker VXE drone has provided insights into what future improvements could be made to the device.
A production Stalker VXE was configured with an external, wing-mounted fuel tank for the 39 hours, 17 minutes, and 7 seconds flight — a record in the Group 2 unmanned aerial system category (5 to 25 kilogram or 11 to 55 pounds).
This flight was nearly five times longer than the average endurance of a fuel cell-operated Stalker and provided glimpses of the aircraft’s future potential for “scaled up” missions.
The baseline Stalker surveillance drone has been in service with the US Special Operations Command since 2006.
Its improved version — the Stalker eXtended Endurance (Stalker XE) — was introduced in 2011, followed by the aircraft’s vertical take-off and landing version in 2018, which was designed for operations in austere and rugged environments.
Stalker Drone Features
The Stalker has a maximum speed of 58 miles (93 kilometers) per hour and a cruise speed of 36 miles (58 kilometers) per hour.
A battery-powered Stalker can fly for up to 138 miles (222 kilometers), while a fuel cell-powered Stalker has a range of 269 miles (433 kilometers).
It is a man-portable aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight of 48 pounds (22 kilograms) and 38.5 pounds (17 kilograms) for the fuel cell and battery-powered versions, respectively.
According to Lockheed Martin, the aircraft’s open system architecture allows it to “execute diverse and demanding missions while maintaining a small operational footprint and crew.”