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Aurora Flight Sciences headed to new heigths

- Aurora Flight Sciences in Manassas is taking the industry to new heigths by developing a new vertical takeoff plane similiar to the Osprey.

Route 1: ‘Going to get worse before it gets better’

- That’s what Woodbridge Supervisor Frank Principi told a crowd of 70 towards the end of a town hall at Freedom High School on April 27.

Murder on Godwin Middle School grounds Wednesday night

- Prince William County Police officers arrived at Godwin Middle School on Wednesday, May 4, at 8:49 p.m. to investigate a shooting.

Names in the News

- Students from Prince William County and their accomplishments.

Dominion debuts clean technology at Possum Point

- Dominion Virginia Power opened up Possum Point Power Station for a media tour at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 3.

Coming Attractions

- Events and happenings around Prince William County.

Woman’s body found near Woodbridge drainage ditch

- The body of an adult woman was found in the area of Cotton Mill Drive and Griffith Avenue in Woodbridge on April 29.

Gainesville /Prince William Police Reports

- Woman wanted in Wells Fargo Bank robbery turns herself in Vicky Samantha Flores turned herself into Prince William County Police officers without incident at the Adult Detention Center in Manassas on April 27. Flores was wanted in connection to a robbery at the Wells Fargo Bank on Dale Boulevard in Woodbridge on April 5 where an unknown woman approached the bank area and passed a note implying she had a weapon and demanded money. The suspect took an undisclosed amount of money before fleeing the area on foot in an unknown direction. On April 22, detectives from the Robbery Unit obtained warrants for the arrest of Flores who was identified as being involved in the robbery. Flores, 23, was charged with robbery with a court date on June 9. She is being held without bond.

League of Women Voters sponsors Town Hall

- Four of Prince William County’s General Assembly representatives took over the Haymarket Gainesville Library for a town hall meeting on May 1.

Stewart Launches Bid

- PWC chairman to run for governor's office in 2017.

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Aurora Flight Sciences headed to new heigths

Aurora Flight Sciences President and Chief Operating Officer Mark Cherry stands with a scale model of the D8 that NASA and the FAA are pursuing development of as a next generation, high efficiency passenger aircraft. Photo by Adam Goings.
Aurora Flight Sciences in Manassas is taking the industry to new heigths by developing a new vertical takeoff plane similiar to the Osprey.

The future looks bright for Aurora Flight Sciences which beat out Sikorsky and Boeing for the contract to develop the LightningStrike X-plane, an aircraft that will take off and land like a helicopter.

That’s just one of the strides the company has made in systems for aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles – drones.

The company has come a long way since John Langford began Aurora nearly 27 years ago “in a typical garage workshop,” said Mark Cherry, president and chief operating officer.

From those simple beginnings the company has grown and now employs 450 in offices, plants or research sites in several states.

Langford serves as chairman and chief executive officer. The company moved from Alexandria to Manassas, where the company is based in three hangars at Manassas Regional Airport.

Aurora uses the airport to make aircraft test flights. Takeoffs and landings are managed by manned aircraft. A safety pilot is on board the Centaur unmanned aircraft when it's flown.

While offices and cubicles occupy some of the Manassas floor space, other areas have the look of a high-tech garage where assembly and testing of products in development goes on.

Some of the work is hush-hush. Aurora does government work so some things cant be photographed or discussed in detail out of concern the information or images of the work get into the wrong hands.

Besides the Manassas location, Aurora has production plants in West Virginia and Mississippi. Research and development is done at a site in Cambridge, Mass. Aurora recently opened an office in Mountain View, Calif.

Aurora employs a staff of 200 in Manassas.

Aurora Flight Sciences is adding another 50 employees to be hired in the next six months due to a contract awarded to develop LightningStrike.

LightningStrike, a unmanned remote controlled aircraft, will weigh six tons that will be the size of a business jet. But it will be a VTOL – a vertical takeoff and landing plane – that stands to beat the Osprey, the aircraft that escorts President Obama’s Marine One helicopter, in speed and altitude.

“We’ve been growing and we plan to keep growing. Our footprint over the next two years will increase significantly,” said said Cherry, who moved into the private sector after starting out as an Air Force officer. He headed that military branch’s research lab.

Much of the work Aurora does is in “making flying robots work. To create opportunities to do things and have capabilities in a manner other platforms can’t do or as efficiently. We see a lot of growth both commercially as well as in defense work,” Cherry said.

Currently, 70 percent of Aurora’s work is government or government-related, the latter including NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration. The other 30 percent is for private sector clients.

The idea behind the work at Aurora is to make aircraft “smarter, more efficient and more cost effective,” Cherry said. “We’re moving from the jet age to the efficiency age.”

Incorporating more robotics is one way to achieve efficiency. Building lighter aircraft using composite materials is another. Aurora’s Massachusetts site focuses on propulsion, guidance and control, fault-tolerant avionics systems and cutting-edge new vehicle designs.

Its Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility Systems or AACUS enables a Marine on the ground receive supplies in hostile territory via helicopter not flown by a human pilot.

Aurora is working with NASA on the development of a way to synchronize, hold and reorient satellites. The program is called SPHERES. With it “you can have one satellite focused on one part of the spectrum” with other satellites focused elsewhere, Cherry explained.

Another of its projects is a concept to automate operations on an aircraft to reduce the need for as many crewmen on board. The project is known as ALIAS, or Aircrew Labor In-cockpit Automation System.

Aurora has also developed the Centaur, an aircraft that can be flown manned, unmanned or augmented. Unmanned, it can be sent in areas deemed too dangerous for a pilot.

The company’s Orion set the world record for long-endurance flight of an unmanned aircraft with an 80-hour flight, topping the previous record of 30 hours.

Panoptes Systems Corporation is a division of Aurora that’s engaged in efforts to make unmanned aircraft flying in the national airspace safer and more efficient. Its eBumper4 is a collision avoidance system. It’s designed as a retrofit kit that can be installed by the drone operator. It can be used on some of the most widely-owned consumer drones on the market.

“This is a technology that does the same function as a human would do in detecting obstacles,” Cherry said. “It’s a safety bumper, so to speak.”

“Sensing and avoiding is a big area” under development, added Francis X. “Chip” Sheller, vice president of communications and public affairs for Aurora. The public “will have to have a level of comfort” before the age of driver-less cars and pilot-less commercial aircraft becomes commonplace and accepted, he said.

He said those who work at Aurora have the benefit of seeing “the fruits of their labor,” starting with an initial idea, through development, testing and production.

“They get to work on things hands-on. Elsewhere you can work on something for 20 years and not see the result,” he said.

More information about the work Aurora does can be found on the company’s website at www.aurora.aero.

A glimpse into the future at the General Jimmy Doolittle Operations Center. No classified
information or ITAR sensitive data is contained within these photos. Photo by Adam Goings.
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