Warplanes: Why Marines Love Their Dragon Eyes

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November 13, 2005: The U.S. Marine Corps has been using the six pound Dragon Eye UAV for three years now. This system is just an interim one, until a better replacement can be developed. After some early reliability and parts supply problems were solved, the marines grew to like the Dragon Eye a lot. The battery powered UAV can stay in the air for 50-60 minutes at a time, and moves around at up to 55 kilometers an hour (or 15 meters a second, which is a more meaningful measurement.) The aircraft can operate up to five kilometers from the operator. The marines have found Dragon Eye particularly good for patrols and scouting. Sending up the UAV saves American lives, because the most dangerous part of patrolling is going into unfamiliar territory, especially when you don't know what's behind the hill, or buildings, up ahead. The Dragon Eye eliminates a lot of that, sometimes fatal, uncertainty.

Because the Dragon Eye runs on batteries, it is very quiet. Although it has a 45 inch wingspan, it is actually pretty hard to spot, even though it usually flies at 300-500 feet. As a test, a company of marines was allowed to fire at a Dragon Eye in the air. After thousands of rounds fired, there were only four hits, and the UAV could still fly. Iraqis are much worse shots, thus the main cause of Dragon Eyes failing is an equipment problem, or weather (a strong wind will toss the six pound aircraft about, and out of control.) Even when a Dragon Eye losses control, or power, and comes down, it is rarely destroyed. The light weight, and sturdy construction, makes it hard to hurt, and easy to repair. The parts are quickly snapped together for assembly, which means an entire system (aircraft and controller) can be carried in a backpack. The seven pound, hand held, ground controller gives the user live video from two cameras (one points forward, the other to the side). The UAV carries GPS, providing precise location information if artillery, mortar or air strikes are called in.

The marines have over a hundred Dragon Eyes in Iraq, where they are used heavily by platoon and company commanders, as well as patrols. You can train a marine how to operate it in less than an hour. For a generation that grew up on game consoles, "flying" the UAV is hardly a chore. But you can also just enter GPS coordinates, and the Dragon Eye will fly to them, or just circle a location.

 


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