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Category: Drones and UAVs (page 1 of 2)

The new (secret) eyes in the skies

First off, we have to give a hat tip to Wings Over Iraq for the tip-off about this.  Secondly, prepare to meet a real-life UFO – maybe….

The successful launch and landing of the US Navy’s X-47B stealth drone on an aircraft carrier recently was a surprisingly, even suspiciously, well publicized and openly photographed event.  And there’s clearly no effort being made to keep the plane’s existence secret – even if its capabilities are not being publicized.

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Perhaps the surprising openness about the X-47B program is a deliberate move to distract attention away from a truly amazing secret – the successor to the RQ-170 “Sentinel”, once known as “The Beast of Kandahar”.

"The Beast of Kandahar" - an RQ-170 'Sentinal' AUV.

“The Beast of Kandahar” – an RQ-170 ‘Sentinel’ AUV.

 

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Miniature surveillance helicopters in Afghanistan

British troops in Afghanistan are the first to use state-of-the-art handheld nano surveillance helicopters.  This revolutionary new system – the size of a child’s toy – is carried easily on patrol and is capable of performing in harsh environments and windy conditions.

The Black Hornet Nano Unmanned Air Vehicle measures around 4 inches by 1 inch (10cm x 2.5cm) and provides troops on the ground with vital situational awareness.

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The Black Hornet is equipped with a tiny camera which gives troops reliable full-motion video and still images. Soldiers are using it to peer around corners or over walls and other obstacles to identify any hidden dangers and the images are displayed on a handheld terminal.

Sergeant Scott Weaver launches a Black Hornet Nano Unmanned Air Vehicle from a compound in Afghanistan.  (Picture: Sergeant Rupert Frere RLC, Crown Copyright/MOD 2013)

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US SOCOM buys more”Hummingbird”UAVs

I found this interesting piece on WIRED’s “Danger Room” blog:

Secret Missions for Special Forces’ Stealth Robo-Copter

By David AxeLast year, U.S. Special Operations Command quietly began taking delivery of 10 Boeing-built Hummingbird robotic helicopters, and outfitting them for two-gigapixel spy cameras, foliage-penetrating radars, small guided missiles and even 800-pound-capacity cargo pods.a160-01 Now the command has announced it will buy another 10 Hummingbirds, re-designated MQ-18, by 2017 — and deploy three of them to an “undisclosed location” next year, according to British aviation magazine Air Forces Monthly. But it’s a safe bet that the undisclosed location is west of Pakistan, east of Iran, south of the former Soviet Union and crawling with Taliban. A small fleet of quiet, lethal robots, each with a 30-hour endurance and a bunch of equipment options, could come in quite handy there.Hush-hush robots are all the rage in the escalating Afghanistan-Pakistan war. Predator drone ops are an open secret in Pakistan, where their attacks have sparked a major controversy over alleged civilian casualties. At least one experimental “black” drone apparently operates out of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. In the same region, the Marines want new drones for rapid re-supply missions during widely-scattered infantry operations. SOCOM’s Hummingbirds might combine the Predator’s lethality with the Marine’ drone’s cargo load — and the Kandahar bot’s secrecy.[PHOTO: Darpa]

Puma miniature UAV lands on water and ground for Special Forces applications

From Military & Aerospace ElectronicsPARIS, 20 June 2009. Officials from AeroVironment were showcasing their Puma AE (all environment) miniature unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) at the Paris Air Show this week. The hand-launched UAV uses custom electro-optics to track targets.puma UAVThere is no other UAV like it that can land in multiple environments and carry an electro-optic payload nearly equal to that of a much larger UAV, says Stayne Hoff, director of international business development AeroVironment in Simi Valley, Calif. It is used by Special Forces personnel such as the Navy Seals, who just love it, he adds.A current commander in the field uses the Puma in conjunction with a Boeing ScanEagle UAV, Hoff says. “He alternates them depending on the mission.”If the operational footprint is larger and he can employ more operators he will use the ScanEagle for its greater imaging capability, but if he needs to be flexible in tight spots and still get quality imagery he uses the Puma AE, Hoff explains.The gimbal that contains the electro-optics was a custom AeroViornment design, Hoff says. “Nothing on the market was able to meet necessary requirements to for vibration and waterproofing in one package.”The 13-pound UAV carries an electro-optical and infrared camera on a lightweight mechanical gimbaled payload allowing the operator to keep ‘eyes on target, according to a company data sheet.Operators view the imagery from the Puma via a Panasonic Toughbook computer, Hoff says. AV Tracker software from AeroVironment uses super stabilization and mosaicing tools to keep the image the operators see stable and clear, he continues. It has the quality of an image from a Predator, Hoff adds.Using something the U.S. military calls “cursor on target” cuts out human error when providing targeting information, Hoff says. An operator simply clicks on the target and relevant position data is automatically sent to a weapons system for target destruction, he continues.Hoff notes that this capability is only within U.S. military networks.According to the AeroVironment datasheet on the Puma the air vehicle’s modular design allows for alternative payload development to meet the needs of specific military or civilian applications.The current battery life of the UAV is 2 hours, but company designers are looking to introduce a 4-hour battery in about a year, Hoff says. He also notes that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working on a prototype fuel cell that will provide 7 hours of battery life. However, that is years away, Hoff adds.The Puma AE system is quiet to avoid detection and operate autonomously – via a controller on the ground – providing intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting data (ISRT). “It operates in any environment a man can see in,” says one AeroVironment designer in the Puma Video running at the company’s booth at the Air Show.The UAV has a communications range of about 9.3 miles. The company’s common ground control system provides Puma AE users compatibility with AeroVironment’s Raven and Wasp miniature UAV platforms.The Puma AE has an operating altitude of 500 feet a range of 15 kilometers, according to the company data sheet. The system, which has a wing span of 9.2 feet, also does not require auxiliary equipment for launch or recovery operations.- John McHaleMore information about AeroVironment’s small UAVs can be found here.

US Spec Ops forces get "Hummingbird" UAV

The United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is in the process of deploying its first Boeing A160T Hummingbird unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The new UAV, developed by Boeing in conjunction with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) looks like a traditional helicopter but it goes higher, stays airborne longer, travels farther, and runs more quietly than any helicopter in current use.

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The Hummingbird is 35 feet long with a 36 foot rotor diameter. It uses a Pratt & Whitney PW207 turboshaft engine and is designed to fly more than 2,500 nautical miles (around 2,900 regular miles) with a payload of 300 pounds (larger payloads are supported for shorter distances). It can remain airborne for more than 24 hours at a time and can fly up to 160 miles per hour (about 140 knots) at up to 30,000 feet above ground.
Future versions could fly as high as 55,000 feet above the ground and remain airborne for as long as 48 hours. The current ceiling for most conventional helicopters is 20,000 feet and the longest flight endurance of a commercial helicopter is just over 23 hours.
 
The key to these improvements is Boeing’s new rotor design. Unlike conventional helicopters, the Hummingbird uses a variable speed rotor, allowing operators to slow the rate of rotation to save fuel and operate quietly or speed it up to travel as quickly as possible. The UAV uses a hingeless, rigid carbon fiber construction to allow this variation without inducing vibrational problems that would potentially damage or disable the craft.
 
USSOCOM took delivery of ten Hummingbirds in November 2008. Initial use of the vehicles includes testing of the Foliage Penetration Reconnaissance Surveillance Tracking and Engagement Radar (FORESTER), a radar designed to detect people and vehicles moving under the cover of foliage. Hummingbirds are also being used as test beds for other DARPA projects including the Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance-Imaging System (ARGUS-IS) system.
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 Other potential Special Forces uses for the Hummingbirds include precision resupply missions and possibly, emergency medical evacuations (human payloads have not been tested at this point, so there are no immediate or near-term plans to use the vehicles for this purpose). Hummingbirds are not armed, but there is also a possibility that future iterations could include lightweight missiles or other small stealth weapons.

 

Background:

The A160 Hummingbird Unmanned Aerial Vehicle looks like a helicopter but is unlike any other helicopter on the market today. It can reach higher altitudes, hover for longer periods of time, go greater distances and operate much more quietly than current helicopters. And it features a unique optimum speed rotor technology that enables the Hummingbird to adjust the RPM (Revolutions Per Minute) of the rotor blades at different altitudes and cruise speeds.

The A160 joined Boeing’s line of UAVs in May 2004 with the acquisition of Frontier Systems Inc., at Irvine, Calif. The aircraft’s unique characteristics address current and emerging requirements of the U.S. armed forces, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and international military and security organizations.

A Boeing Phantom Works team called Advanced Unmanned Systems-Concept Exploration is developing the A160 under a contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The Hummingbird is designed to fly 2,500 nautical miles with endurance in excess of 24 hours and a payload of more than 300 pounds. The autonomously-flown A160 is 35 feet long with a 36-foot rotor diameter. It will fly at an estimated top speed of 140 knots at ceilings up to 30,000 feet, which is about 10,000 feet higher than conventional helicopters can fly today. Future missions for the A160 include reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, communications relay and precision re-supply.

The A160 flew for the first time in January 2002 at a former U.S. Air Force base at Victorville, Calif., where flight-testing of the Hummingbird continues. The A160′s ability to stay aloft a long time at high altitudes is drawing considerable interest from the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Special Operations Forces.

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Potential customers are also paying a lot of attention to the Hummingbird’s unique optimal speed rotor system. During flight, an operator can vary the RPM of the A160′s rotors (speed them up or slow them down) at different altitudes to improve overall efficiency and save fuel. This is quite a departure from conventional rotor systems, which tend to have a fixed rotor RPM regardless of altitude.

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