The Proteus, designed by Burt Rutan and produced by his
company Scaled Composites, is an odd looking aircraft
which is designed to operate for extended periods of time
at high altitudes.
It was originally conceived as an aircraft which could
be used for a variety of specialist roles including atmospheric
sampling, reconnaissance, earth-monitoring scientific
research, and as a mobile telecommunications relay platform.
In addition to its multipurpose mission abilities, the
Proteus was also designed to be cheap to run (compared
to similar aircraft), and easy to operate and maintain.
The Proteus has a highly unusual means of control. It
can be flown either by two pilots seated in the aircraft,
or it can be flown unmanned and controlled from the ground.
It can even operate in a semiautonomous mode where it
The Scaled Composites Proteus is constructed using a lightweight
airframe which utilizes advanced composite materials.
The wingspan is normally 77 feet 7 inches (23.6 m). But
with the optional wingtips installed the wingspan stretches
to 92 feet (28 m). The aircraft is 56.3 feet long (17.1
m), and weighs a mere 5,900 lbs (2,676 kgs). Power for
the aircraft comes from a pair of Williams FJ44-2 turbofan
engines mounted towards the rear of the aircraft over
the rear wing. The engines produce a combined total of
4,600 pounds of thrust.
Proteus underwent its first round of testing from mid-1998
to the end of 1999. Later the aircraft was fitted with
an advanced autopilot and satellite communications system
by NASA as part of their Environmental Research Aircraft
and Sensor Technology (ERAST) project. During this time
the Proteus did everything it was asked to, and it contributed
significantly to the program.
NASA then equipped the Scaled Composites Proteus with
a compact Airborne Real-Time Imaging System (ARTIS) which
could take pictures from the air and then almost instantaneously
relay the images to a ground control station. This led
to the Proteus being used as a testbed for trying out
and experimenting with systems designed for use in unmanned
aerial vehicles (UAVs). One of the areas which was explored
was an automated system for detecting other aircraft and
making course and altitude changes to keep a safe distance.
This system proved to be a great success and elements
of the collision-avoidance technology were integrated
into both the Skywatch and the OASys detection systems
The Scaled Composites Proteus isn't done yet either, as
NASA have indicated that they may use the aircraft in
the future for studies into other types of automated detection
for use in the next-generation of UAVs.