DARPA's certainly not lacking for ambitious projects these days, but it looks like it's about to get another big one underway nonetheless, with it reportedly now close to awarding contracts for its Vulture program, which aims to build an unmanned aircraft capable of a non-stop five-year flight. As if that feat wasn't enough, the aircraft will also have to be able to carry a 1,000 pound payload, pump out 5kW of onboard power, and keep up enough speed to withstand the winds it'll encounter at 60,000 to 90,000 feet. Needless to say, that's a long ways from becoming a reality, although it seems that the first phase of the project could soon be kicking off, with Vulture program manager Daniel Newman saying that they've had "at least one successful offeror," and that they're now close to doling out the first contracts. That initial phase will run for twelve months, and will require contractors to "define the objective system and design both full-scale and subscale demonstrators." That'll then be followed by phase two, which'll run through 2012 with the goal of testing of a subscale demonstrator capable of flying for three months.

[Via CNET News.com]