January 26, 2011:
The U.S. Army has been ordered to get moving in using helicopter UAVs for reconnaissance, surveillance and delivering cargo. Fortunately, the U.S. Marine Corps is already using the A160T ("Hummingbird") helicopter UAV [PHOTO] for delivering cargo, and the army believes it has a similar need.
The A160T can help out with the surveillance as well, as it can carry the ARGUS-IS. This is basically a huge 1.8 giga (billion) pixel camera (which consists of 368 five megapixel sensors). When operating at 3,200 meters (10,000 feet) altitude, the ARGUS-IS camera watches 40 square kilometers (a circular area 7.2 kilometers in diameter). The camera periodically transmits a picture of all that to the ground station. There, operators can select a smaller area, and have the camera send a higher resolution image of a smaller area (sharp enough to show individuals) as video (15 frames a second). What makes all this work is a powerful, parallel processing, computer in the five meter long, 230 kg (500 pound) pod that carries the camera. The computer compresses the images enough so that the bandwidth available can handle the huge amounts of data being sent down. The pod can be carried by a helicopter, as it works best if it stays stationary.
The decade old A160T is a three ton helicopter, able to fly under remote control or under its own pre-programmed control. It is based on the Robinson R22 manned helicopter. It has a top speed of 255 kilometers an hour, and was originally designed to operate for up to 40 hours carrying a payload of 136 kg (300 pounds). The A160T resumed production last year, and has already been used for battlefield cargo transport and reconnaissance.