Warplanes: October 15, 2003

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American infantry platoons and Special Forces teams are getting their own private air force in the form of a new lightweight (four pound) UAV that is launched by hand (you start the motor and throw it). The Raven UAV is an upgrade (and much downsized) version of the earlier Pointer UAV. The Raven is a very rugged and reliable miniature aircraft, each one costing about $25,000. The Raven can carry a high resolution color camera, or a thermal (heat) imager for use at night or overcast weather. The Raven can fly as high as 3,000 feet, and as far as fifteen kilometers from it's launch point. It can move as fast as 90 kilometers an hour, but generally cruises at about half that speed. Guidance is via GPS and it lands automatically at a pre-programmed location. Each Raven system consists of two or three aircraft, spare parts (and tools to install them) and a laptop computer to program the guidance system and view the pictures taken. All of this can be carried by one man (as it weighs less than 30 pounds). Each sortie by a Raven lasts less than an hour. The army ordered the Raven's six months ago, and the fifteen it just received are being sent to Afghanistan. That will be quite a test, because the cold and winds in the mountains, not to mention the thin air, will provide a challenging environment. 

 


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