COLUMBUS, Miss. — A drone maker has won a $48 million contract to continue developing its unmanned aerial vehicles in Mississippi and Virginia.

Local media in Mississippi report that the U.S. Air Force awarded the contract to Aurora Flight Sciences, which was bought by Boeing Co. in October.

Aurora’s twin-engine Orion aircraft can fly for more than 100 hours at a time carrying loads of more than 1,000 pounds.

The new contract funds further development of Orion vehicles in Columbus, Mississippi, and Manassas, Virginia.

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker says the drone will help gather military information once it’s deployed. Wicker says he hopes mission-ready drones will start being produced sometime in 2019.

Aurora began operation in Mississippi in 2003 and now has almost 100 employees in Lowndes County.