Warplanes: March 11, 2003


The U.S. Marine Corps has rushed their new Dragon Eye UAV into service for operations in Iraq. The UAV has a max range of about ten kilometers, but is meant to do things like literally look over the next hill, or check out what's around the corner in an urban warfare situation. The 4.3 pound, battery powered UAV is made of plastic and has two propeller driven engines. It breaks apart into five pieces that can be carried in a backpack with the ground control set. The UAV can stay in the air for an hour, has a top speed of 60 kilometers an hour (about 17 meters a second) and uses a wireless modem (with a 10 kilometer range) to send back color video, low light and infrared photos. The aircraft is guided via built in GPS. The ground controller can see the images coming back, and can reprogram GPS waypoints after the UAV is launched (via a large sling shot.) Each Dragon Eye team consists of three UAVs and one ground control unit (plus extra batteries, some spare parts and duct tape) Each UAV costs about $60,000 and is expected to survive for about 40 flights on average. The big drawback with the Dragon Eye is the wind. Such a small aircraft can be easily blown around, or even crashed, by high winds. But considering the intelligence advantage the Dragon Eye gives to battalion and brigade commanders, the risks are considered acceptable. 


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