Warplanes: April 13, 2005

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Efforts to create smaller and smaller UAVs has reached the point where the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are now field testing the seven ounce Wasp Micro Air Vehicle (MAV). This is a flat, rectangular flying wing (13 inch wingspan, about seven inches long), that can stay in the air for about an hour. Once the battery powered propeller is spinning, the operator throws Wasp into the air, and off it goes, usually a 100 feet altitude. You land it by pressing the autoland button after you have entered GPS coordinates of where you want it to return to. The propeller often breaks off when it lands, but the Wasp was designed for that, and you just snap on another one. The $5,000 MAV can survive about twenty such landings. The MAV is controlled via a hand held ($30,000) device that looks like a Gameboy, but has a seven inch color screen and controls laid out for easy use. The Wasp carries a GPS, and microprocessor that keeps it stable in flight. The operator picks a route via GPS coordinates, and can order it to circle an area at any time. Two color video cameras are carried (one looking forward, and one looking to the rear), and then the Wasp is a hundred feet up, you can make out people below, and whether they are armed. The Wasp moves at a speed of 35-75 kilometers an hour (or about 9-19 meters a second). The controller can remain in touch with a Wasp that is up to ten kilometers away, after which the operator losses control, and the video feed. 

The controller, which is the same one used for larger micro-UAVs like the Raven and Pointer, can control up to six Wasps at once. An improved version of the Wasp is in development, and this new one will be waterproof and have a night (infrared) camera. The major shortcoming of the Wasp is the difficulty of using it in windy or stormy conditions. This is a problem with all lightweight UAVs, and is particularly bad with the tiny Wasp. The troops, however, are happy to have it. The system is rugged, lightweight and simple to use. When the air is fairly still, the Wasp can go up and provide the troops with a major battlefield advantage.

 


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