UAVs in Action

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Our April 2010 issue of MAN featured an article written by Sr. Tech. Editor Gerry Yarrish entitled, “UAVs in Action” RC in Uniform—our Military’s Warbirds without Pilots.

We only had so much room in the magazine for the printed article so some of the specs and photos had to be cut. This impressive online revisit of the unmanned aerial vehicles concept shows past, present and future UAVs, with photos taken in the battlefield and supplied by the military and manufacturers. And these are only the ones we know about! Makes you think about what’s in classified development…


IAI Heron



The IAI Heron (Machatz-1) is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle developed by the Malat (UAV) division of Israel Aerospace Industries. It is capable of Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) operations of up to 52 hours’ duration at up to 35,000 feet. It has demonstrated 52 hours of continuous flight, but the effective operational maximal flight duration is less, due to payload and flight profile. There is a new version, Heron TP, also known as IAI Eitan.

On September 11, 2005 it was announced [1] that the Israel Defence Forces purchased US$50 million worth of Heron systems. The IDF’s designation of the Heron is Machatz-1. Heron navigates using an internal GPS receiver, and either a pre-programmed flight profile (in which case the system is fully autonomous from takeoff to landing), manual override from a ground control station, or a combination of both. It can autonomously return to base and land in case of lost communication with the ground station. The system has fully automatic launch and recovery (ALR) and all-weather capabilities.

Heron can carry an array of sensors, including infra-red and visible-light surveillance, intelligence systems (COMINT and ELINT) and various radar systems, totaling up to 250 kg (551 lb). Heron is also capable of target acquisition and artillery adjustment.

The payload sensors communicate with the ground control station in real-time, using either direct line of sight data link, or via an airborne/satellite relay. Like the navigation system, the payload can also be used in either a fully pre-programmed autonomous mode, or manual real-time remote operation, or a combination of both.


Length: 8.5 m (27 ft 10 in)

Wingspan: 16.60 m (54 ft 5 in)

Max takeoff weight: 1,150 kg (2,530 lb)

Powerplant: 1× Rotax 914, 86 kW (115 hp)

Maximum speed: 207 km/h (113 knots, 130 mph)

Range: 350 km (189 nm, 217 mi)

Service ceiling: 10,000 m (32,800 ft)

Rate of climb: 150 m/min (492 ft/min)

Wing loading: 200 kg/m² (40.9 lb/ft²)

Endurance: 40+ hours

Payload: 250 kgs


Desert Hawk Small UAS



Developed by Lockheed Martin, Desert Hawk’s original concept was to provide a ring of protection around air bases at forward locations for Air Force security forces. In July 2002, systems were delivered to the Air Force as part of the Force Protection Airborne Surveillance System requirement.

The Desert Hawk UAS features six air vehicles or AVs, a ground control station, remote video terminal, day-night camera capability, transportation cases, launch equipment and ground spares and equipment. A two-person crew using a bungee-cord catapult system launches the Desert Hawk. Desert Hawk can be autonomously flown using a laptop computer with dynamic re-tasking and on-demand manual steering override. A two-bladed propeller driven by an electric motor powers the Desert Hawk.

Desert Hawk was rapidly fielded to support security forces deployed in U. S. Central Command’s area of operations. It has proven its worth supporting not only Air Force assets but also Army forces involved in convoy protection and base defense.

General Characteristics

Primary Function: Real-time force protection and reconnaissance, and perimeter assessment.


Power Plant:     Electric motor, rechargeable lithium ion batteries

Wingspan:        4.3 feet (1.31 meters)

Length:             2 feet 10 in (.8 meters)

Weight:             (aerial vehicle) 7 lbs (3.2 kilograms)

Speed:              35-55 mph (30-48 knots)

Operating Altitude: 200-1000 ft air ground level (AGL) (60-300meters)

System Cost:    $224,000

Payload:           High resolution, day/night camera and thermal imager

Inventory: Classified


Wasp III



Shown Above: WASP III (Left); WASP I (Right)


The Wasp III Small Unmanned Aircraft System is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed for United States Air Force special forces to provide a small, light-weight vehicle to provide beyond-line-of-sight situational awareness. The aircraft is equipped with two on-board cameras to provide real-time intelligence to its operators. It is also equipped with GPS and Inertial Navigation System enabling it to operate autonomously from takeoff to recovery. It was designed by AeroVironment Inc. and was first added to the Air Force inventory in 2007

Weighing only one pound (430 gr.), Wasp III has a wing span of 2.375 ft (72 cm). Wasp III Micro unmanned aircraft sytems from Aerovironment is a small, electrically powered unmmanned aerial vehicle developed under a DARPA Micro-UAV program. Wasp III is Equipped with forward and side looking color video cameras, as well as a modular forward or side looking electo-optical infrared payload.

In 2006 the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) selected the Wasp III as its Battlefield Air Targeting Micro Air Vehicle’ (BATMAV). AFSOC plans to use these systems in support of ground combat contriller teams. In 2007 the US Air Force recently took delivery of the first production version of the BATMAV. AV is producing the systems under a $45 million, five year contract to supply 30 systems to the US Air Force.


Length:             10 in (25.4 cm)

Wingspan:        28.5 in (72.3 cm)

Empty weight: 1 lbs (453 g)

Loaded weight: 14.4 lbs (6.53 kg)

Powerplant:      1× Electric motor, rechargeable lithium ion batteries

Maximum speed: 40 mph

Service ceiling: 1,000 feet


Hermes 900



The Hermes 900 unmanned aircraft made the first flight from an airfield in the western Negev desert on December 9, 2009. The developer, Elbit Systems plans to conduct more test flights soon, commencing with serial production of the UAV. Current users of Hermes 450 type, including the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have expressed interest in the new capability. Unlike other Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV systems, such as the MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper and Heron I, the Hermes 900 can be operated as part of existing, tactical UAV units currently operating the smaller Hermes 450 and Hermes 90. Such capability can dramatically extend mission endurance, payload capacity and operational capabilities of operational units, without fielding additional infrastructure and support.

Weighing 1.1 tons on takeoff, Hermes 900 is more than twice heavier than the current Hermes 450. It has a wing span of 15 meter and fuselage length of 8.3 meters. The aircraft is powered by a single Rotax 914 engine certified engine, modified forunmanned high altitude operation. The larger platform is based on the successful track record of the Hermes 450 system that has accumulated over 170,000 flight hours. The new Hermes 900 offers additional capabilities. It can operate on missions up to 36 hours, at altitude up to 30,000 ft, carry payloads up to 300kg capacity). Furthermore, the modular design allows fast payload replacement and flight capabilitiesin adverse weather conditions. The vehicle is designed for maximum speed of 120 knots, its typical loiter speed is 60 knots.

The Hermes 900 uses built-in satellite communication channel providing beyond-line-of-sight link to the universal command & control ground station (UGCS), enabling the aircraft to operate at long distances and descend to lower altitude even inmountainous terrain. The autonomous system is also supported with advanced mission management, automatic taxiing, autonomous flight and automatic takeoff and landing systems common to all the UAVs and in the Hermes family.

The Hermes 900 also includes innovative avionics and electronic systems and a new fully certified engine, as well as systems required for flight in a combined civil and unmanned aviation area. The new UAV offers additional cutting edge technologies and applications such as electro-optic systems, laser designators and electronic intelligence sensors (ELINT, COMINT).

“Hermes 900 broadens out the Elbit Systems UAS portfolio, offering customers a variety of mission capabilities” said Haim Kellerman, Co-General Manager of Elbit Systems UAS Division. “The fact that the Hermes 900 builds on existing applications and similar infrastructure of the Hermes 450, allows us to transfer the new UAV directly into serial production.” He added, noting the company is enhancing its production abilities in anticipation for a growing demand of the new capabilities offered by the larger platform. Elbit has been the primer supplier of UAVs for the Israel Defense Forces, with Hermes-450 based systems becoming operational in the mid 1990s, the Skylark 1 mini-UAVs fielded in the early 2000s and operated by the artillery corps and newly developed Skylark LE recently selected to support the IDF land forces at battalion level. The company is also offering the Hermes 90 as a brigade-level small UAV. The extensive operational experience gained by the Hermes community in operations in the Middle East and elsewhere triggered many improvements that can be implemented throughout the operational fleet of Hermes UAVs.


CL-227 Sentinel / CL-327 Guardian




Canadair’s involvement with the US Navy started in 1988. Several demonstrations of the CL-227 were conducted to show the feasibility of launching and recovering a VTOL air vehicle from the deck of a small combatant ship. In a planned build up, land-based flight tests were conducted at the contractor’s site in Montreal Canada on a tether due to air space restrictions. Flights at Ft. Huachuca, AZ demonstrated the capability of a 20 km data link range. Flights were completed at Medicine Hat, Canada from a wooden deck to simulate the transition across the flight deck of a ship. A flight was accomplished aboard the Jan Tide (an oil rig replenishment ship) to a distance of 6 km from the ship. Although this was a manual flight and recovery, it continued the build up. The next at sea demo was conducted aboard the USS DOYLE (FFG-39) during a STANAVFORLANT cruise. Extensive flight testing both at the Canadair facility in Montreal and also at Patuxent River, MD preceded the cruise to demonstrate the safety of the system. Contractor personnel operated the system from a shelter inside the starboard hangar of the FFG. The final at sea demo was conducted aboard the USS VANDERGRIFT (FFG-48) and included automatic approaches to the deck using a UCARS system supplied by the Sierra Nevada Corp.

The CL-327 is an improved version of the CL-227 Sentinel VTOL UAV. The CL-327 is one of the most advanced vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) surveillance system designed for intelligence gathering today. The system’s turboshaft-powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operates either from land or ship and can carry a wide variety of sensors for different mission requirements. The CL-327 is designed to satisfy numerous emerging market requirements for a dependable and versatile vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAV.

The Guardian offers 6.25 hours of endurance, a 105kg payload capacity, and a 200 km range. The system includes a Williams International heavy fuel engine, a digital data-link, compatibility with the CARS automatic recovery system, and the US sponsored Tactical Control Station. Missions: Surveillance Reconnaissance Communications relay Environmental inspection Border patrol Drug enforcement operations Target acquisition / designation Battle damage assessment EW platform

Engine 1 Williams International WTS-125 turboshaft 125 shp flat rated at 100 shp 


Height  6 ft 0 in 1.84 m 

Rotor diameter 13 ft 1 in 4.00 m 

Gross takeoff mass  770 lbs. 350 kg

Empty weight  (no payload, no fuel) 330 lbs. 150 kg 

Payload carrying capacity 220 lbs. 100 kg 

Maximum endurance 6.25 hours 

Time on station at 100 km  4.75 hours 

Maximum speed  157 km/h / 85 kts 

Climb rate  7.6 m/sec / 1,500 ft/min 

Ceiling  5,500 m / 18,000 ft 


General Atomics MQ-1 Predator



The General Atomics MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is a MALE (medium-altitude, long-endurance) UAV system. It can serve in a reconnaissance role and fire two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. The aircraft, in use since 1995, has seen combat over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq, and Yemen.

The MQ-1 Predator is a system, not just an aircraft. The fully operational system consists of four air vehicles (with sensors), a ground control station (GCS), and a Predator primary satellite link communication suite. The U.S. Air Force considers the Predator unmanned aircraft system (UAS) a “Tier II” vehicle. The Predator system was initially designated the RQ-1 Predator. The “R” is the Department of Defense designation for reconnaissance and the “Q” refers to an unmanned aircraft system. The “1” describes it as being the first of a series of aircraft systems built for unmanned reconnaissance. Pre-production systems were designated as RQ-1A, while the RQ-1B (not to be confused with the RQ-1 Predator B, which became the MQ-9 Reaper) denotes the baseline production configuration. It should be emphasized that these are designations of the system as a unit. The actual aircraft themselves were designated RQ-1K for pre-production models, and RQ-1L for production models.  In 2005, the USAF officially changed the designation to MQ-1 (the “M” designates multi-role) to reflect its growing use as an armed aircraft.

The RQ-1 Predator drone became the primary unmanned aerial vehicle used for offensive operations in Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal areas. Its endurance is such that it can fly 400 nautical miles to a target, loiter overhead for 14 hours, then return to its base. US generals testifying before the United States Congress in November-December 2009 about the new Afghanistan strategy declined to discuss the issue of Predator-launched missile strikes in public. The program was supposed to be classified. They discussed their appreciation for the intelligence and reconnaissance-gathering abilities of UAVs.

            The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pentagon had each been experimenting with reconnaissance drones since the early 1980s. The CIA preferred small, lightweight, unobtrusive drones, in contrast to the USAF. In the early 1990s the agency became interested in the “Amber”, a drone developed by Abraham Karem and his company, Leading Systems Inc. Karem was the former chief designer for the Israeli Air Force, and had migrated to the United States in the late 1970s. Karem’s company had since gone bankrupt and been bought up by a US defense contractor. The CIA secretly bought five drones (now called the “Gnat”) from them. Karem agreed to produce a quiet engine for the vehicle, which had until then sounded like “a lawnmower in the sky”. The new development became known as the “Predator”.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems was awarded a contract to develop the Predator in January 1994, and the initial Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) phase lasted from January 1994 to June 1996. The aircraft itself was a derivative of the GA Gnat 750 UAV. During the ACTD phase, three systems were purchased from GA, comprising twelve aircraft and three ground control stations. From April through May, 1995, the Predator ACTD aircraft were flown as a part of the Roving Sands 1995 exercises in the U.S. The exercise operations were successful, and this led to the decision to deploy the system to the Balkans later in the summer of 1995.

Cost for an early production Predator was about $3.2 million USD. The CIA arranged for Air Force teams trained by the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, to fly the agency’s Predators. “First in Bosnia and then in Kosovo, CIA officers began to see the first practical returns …”

By the time of the Afghan campaign, the Air Force had acquired 60 Predators, and lost 20 of them in action. Few if any of the losses were from enemy action, the worst problem apparently being foul weather, particularly icy conditions. Some critics within the Pentagon saw the high loss rate as a sign of poor operational procedures. In response to the losses caused by cold weather flight conditions, a few of the later Predators obtained by the USAF were fitted with deicing systems, along with an uprated turbocharged engine and improved avionics. This improved “Block 1” version was referred to as the “RQ-1B”, or the “MQ-1B” if it carried munitions; the corresponding air vehicle designation was “RQ-1L” or “MQ-1L”.



Lockheed Martin has pulled the lid off of a secret, stealthy, high-flying drone. Built and flown by its famous “Skunk Works” division, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) could serve as a model for a new generation of robotic aircraft that hits targets halfway around the world.With a 90-foot wingspan and a tailless design, the “Polecat” UAV looks like a smaller version of the B-2 stealth bomber. And like the B-2, the drone has been built to be stealthy and sneaky. But the twin-engine Polecat is “90 percent composite materials, rather than metal,” the L.A. Daily News notes. “The vehicle is also made from less than 200 parts,” adds Aviation Week. “Adhesives are used rather than rivets, decreasing the amount of labor needed to construct it — that approach also contributed to a lower radar cross section inherent in the design.”

The Polecat has taken two subsonic flights, around 15,000 ft. But, eventually, the idea is to fly it 60,000 and higher — and break the sound barrier. Up there, contrails don’t form, Jane’s observes, so the plane can stay hidden even better. Plus, Lockheed wants to see how its composites hold up at high altitudes. Skunk Works is also trying to rig Polecat up with “a fully autonomous flight control and mission-handling system that will allow future UAVs to conduct their missions, from take-off to landing, without the intervention of human operators,” Jane’s adds.

The U.S. Air Force has confirmed to Aviation Week the existence of the so-called “Beast of Kandahar” UAV, a stealth-like remotely piloted jet seen flying out of Afghanistan in late 2007.


Northrop Grumman Switchblade–Concept for the Future



Concept Images showing Cruise configuration (Left); and the Deployment configurations (Right.)


The Switchblade is a proposed unmanned aerial vehicle being developed by Northrop Grumman for the United States. The United States Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded Northrop Grumman a $10.3 million (USD) contract for risk reduction and preliminary planning for an X-plane oblique flying wing demonstrator.

The program aims at producing a technology demonstrator aircraft to explore the various challenges which the radical design entails. The proposed aircraft would be a purely flying wing (an aircraft with no other auxiliary surfaces such as tails, can
ards or a fuselage) where the wing is swept with one side of the aircraft forward, and one backwards in an asymmetric fashion. This aircraft configuration is believed to give it a combination of high speed, long range and long endurance. The program entails two phases. Phase I will explore the theory and result in a conceptual design, while Phase II will result in the design, manufacture and flight test of an aircraft. The outcome of the program will result in a dataset that can then be used when considering future military aircraft designs.

Flight of the Switchblade is scheduled for 2020 and will cruise with its 61-meter long oblique wing perpendicular to its engines like a typical aircraft. As the aircraft increases speed, the wing begins to pivot, so that when it breaks the sound barrier, its wing has swiveled 60 degrees, with one wingtip pointing forward and the other backward. The change in aerodynamics and the general structure makes the plane very difficult to control for a human being. The plane is totally controlled by an onboard computer, which handles appropriately all the parameters needed for maintaining a stable flight during the mission.



Wingspan: 61 meters

Range: about 9000 kilometers (5,000 nautical miles)

Max. Altitude: 18 kilometers (60,000 feet)

Max. Speed: Mach 2

More Raven UAV photos!

Sgt. Juan Rivera, from 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, launches the RAVEN unmanned aerial vehicle into the skies over downtown Baghdad, to take surveillance photos during December, 2005

MAJ Chris Brown, Kuwait Raven Equipping Detachment officer in charge, goes over the basics of operating the software for the Raven umanned aerial vehicle with operators from 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.

AeroVironment’s Raven, a manpackable small unmanned aerial vehicle, provides day and night, near-real-time video imagery for over the hill intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in support of a ground commander.

Spc. Ted Trenary and Pfc. Kevin Tirserio (right), from the 101st Airborne Division, prepare to launch the Raven unmanned aerial vehicle at Forward Operating Base McHenry, Iraq. The Raven is being used to hunt for roadside bombs.

Cpl. Christopher Chladny (right) and Staff Sgt. Joshua Rygiel fly the Raven using their navigation computer near Tikrit, Iraq. The aircraft has cameras mounted on it for surveillance of possible enemy activity.

Sgt. 1st Class Austin Bergan, an intelligence analyst from the 3rd Infantry Division, assembles the Raven unmanned aerial vehicle.

Cpl. Christopher Chladny, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) pilot, and Pfc. Michael Compton, assemble the Raven UAV and prepare for a surveillance flight near Tikrit, Iraq

Staff Sgt Charles Alexander (front) and Chief Warrant Officer Two John Terry of the 1-9 Field Artillery, 3rd ID operate the RAVEN system, taking surveillance photos of areas in downtown Baghdad, Iraq.

Updated: July 15, 2015 — 5:08 PM
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