Monday, July 19, 2010

7 Unmanned Airborne Warriors

By Ned Smith, TechNewsDaily Contributor

AeroVironment Puma-AE

The Puma-AE (All Environment) is a hand-launched UAV designed for both land-based and maritime operations. Capable of landing in salt water or on land, it meets a wide range of mission requirements, including intelligence, surveillance, target assessment and reconnaissance. The Puma has a nine-foot wingspan, a speed of 20 to 45 knots and an operating altitude of 500 feet. It weighs 13 pounds and can stay in the air for two hours. The Puma completes its mission with a deep-stall landing, which involves auto-piloting to a near-hover and dropping to the ground or water. It has been selected by the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) as its All Environment Capable Variant (AECV) solution to meet its Small Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) requirement.

AeroVironment Wasp

The tiniest of the current crop of UAVs in service, the Wasp is used by the U.S. Air Force to provide real-time situational awareness and target information for Air Force Special Operations Command Battlefield Airmen. It enables Combat Controllers and Tactical Air Control Party Airmen to engage hostile forces and protect themselves. With its electric motor, powered by rechargeable lithium ion batteries, it has a maximum speed of 40 mph and an operating altitude of 50 to 1000 feet. It has a two-foot wingspan and tips the scales at a hair under one pound. The Wasp can function autonomously from takeoff to deep-stall recovery, or it can be manually controlled by one operator using a hand-held control device. It has a range of three miles and can stay airborne for 45 minutes.

Northrop Grumman Fire-X

Though fixed-wing UAVs dominate the category, they don’t have a complete monopoly on unmanned aerial action. The Fire-X medium-range vertical unmanned aerial system is currently in development with first flight expected by the end of the year. The Fire-X combines the reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition architecture of the U.S. Navy’s MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV, which takes off and lands vertically, and the extended range, payload and cargo-hauling capabilities of the commercially mature FAA-certified Bell 407 helicopter. The result is a fully autonomous, four-blade single-engine unmanned helicopter that will support battlefield demand for enhanced situational awareness.

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