Following a $90 million agreement with Boeing’s unmanned aerial vehicle subsidiary InSitu, an Australian company that makes engines for aerial drones is setting up a facility in the Columbia Gorge close to InSitu.
Orbital, based in Perth, has signed a three-year deal with Boeing to supply InSitu with a new Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or UAV, engine.
It plans to move into an existing facility within six months, probably in Bingen, the Klickitat County town where InSitu is headquartered. It projects about 15 jobs to the area initially, though that should scale up later, InSitu said.
Orbital has been working with InSitu for four years on a new propulsion system for InSitu’s ScanEagle UAV.
The ScanEagle is a long-endurance UAV that features a sophisticated digital imaging system. It’s used extensively by the U.S. military for surveillance in combat zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
It’s launched by catapult and recovered using a “Skyhook” retrieval system — a rope hanging from a tall pole snags a hook on the end of the wingtip.
Orbital has developed a two-stroke engine powered by either jet fuel or gasoline, billed as “the first reciprocating internal combustion propulsion system to be engineered from the ground up for unmanned aerospace application.”
Production has begun in Perth, and Orbital has so far delivered 70 propulsion systems during the design, development and validation phase.
InSitu said it needed “a more powerful and reliable engine” for existing applications as well as to satisfy the safety and airworthiness standards of the emerging commercial UAV market.