The US Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) has awarded a new contract to the Yates Electrospace Corporation (YEC) to trial its Silent Arrow line of autonomous cargo aircraft as part of a 12-month Phase II flight test programme.

A team of engineers and pilots from the US-based company will develop a fleet of ten Silent Arrow drones with gross weights ranging from 500lb to 1,000lb under the deal.

The aircraft will be flight tested to expand the flight envelope and demonstrate the performance criteria set forth by the US laboratory.

“We are honoured to join MCWL in their efforts to save lives, while drastically reducing delivery costs for critical resupply missions with our high-lift delivery drone.”

YEC chief executive officer Chip Yates said: “By removing the electric powertrain from our Silent Arrow product line, we will meet all performance requirements at unprecedented unit costs for such a capable air delivery asset.

“We are honoured to join MCWL in their efforts to save lives, while drastically reducing delivery costs for critical resupply missions with our high-lift delivery drone.”

The US Marine Corps’ (USMC) performance criteria includes the ability to autonomously deliver 700lb of life-saving supplies and cargo anywhere worldwide to within 150ft by a single-use, low-cost, disposable glider aircraft.

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The criteria also requires Silent Arrow be capable of deployment from fixed-wing and rotary wing military aircraft such as the C-130, MV-22 and CH-53 from altitudes of 10ft-25,000ft.

It must also be able to attain a glide ratio between 8:1 and 15:1.

The Silent Arrow aircraft is anticipated to reduce current resupply costs by an order of magnitude, while not compromising the position of the personnel being resupplied via excess noise or the need to recover or retain the delivery platform.