Customer: U.S. Air Force Ballistic Missile Organization (BMO)
Type: optionally manned surrogate reconnaissance UAV
Program: Autonomous Unmanned Reconnaissance Aircraft (AURA) (proprietary)
Powerplant: 1 x 115 hp (85.75 kW) Lycoming O-235-C
Significant date: 1986
The unsung ancestor to all modern UAVs was the AURA, the first auto-landing, remotely-piloted vehicle ever produced. It was developed by Aeromet, a 30-year old company specialized in special mission aircraft, optical measurements, and atmospheric sciences. In terms of special mission aircraft, Aeromet can perform a variety of aircraft modifications, along with installing electronic equipment and instrumentation, perform tests on an aircraft, such as one used for guided missiles, and offer support in engineering and fabrication.
In 1986, the Air Force Ballistic Missile Organization (BMO) sought an aircraft capable of operating in the re-entry corridor (hazard area) during missile tests. Aeromet Inc. of Tulsa, Oklahoma, converted two Cozy Mark IV canard aircraft (patterned after Burt Rutan’s Long-EZ canard design) into a remotely controlled version for use with the US military, dubbing it the Autonomous Unmanned Reconnaissance Aircraft (or AURA in short) in answer to this request.
The AURA was an unmanned vehicle that transitioned from manual control during takeoff to automatic operation during flight and landing. One of the earliest of unmanned aerial vehicles, it was built in Jenks, Oklahoma, and designed by Ray Booker to orbit ballistic missile test launch sites to gather data and video. AURA possessed the ability to receive updated mission instructions while in flight. The AURA was the first auto-landing, remotely-piloted vehicle ever developed. It was powered by a 115 hp (85.75 kW) Lycoming O-235-C flat-four engine fitted with a two-blade pusher propeller.
Three AURA aircraft are said to have been developed and tested until the program, initially aimed at US and NATO armed forces, was discontinued by the military. However, the Aeromet company itself only built two entire AURAs. The first example [N11AU] suffered substantial damage in an accident on March 2, 1989, in Austin, Texas. Only the second example [N16AU], built in 1990, is still registered in the US, and is located at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum as the "Aeromet AURA Spy Plane". Other UAV developments of Rutan's Long-EZ design were developed by Scaled Composites for California Microwave as the CM-30/CM-44 series.
Population: 3 [N11AU (c/n 001), N16AU (c/n 002), unknown]
Maximum level speed: 190 kts.
Crew/passengers: none (unmanned)
Many thanks to Kim Jones from the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium for providing extra material for this article.
More about Ray Booker
Ray Booker, Ph.D. President and CEO
of Aviation Technologies and CEO of Aeromet, Inc., takes flight with
his dreams. As the owner and CEO of a half dozen companies, Dr. Booker
has propelled his entrepreneurial spirit into being a major force in
the aerospace industry in Tulsa. He first graduated from Oklahoma State
University in 1957 with
a Bachelor of
degree in Aero/ Mechanical Engineering. He then received his master's
and doctorate in Meteorology from Pennsylvania State University.