Warplanes: Air and Submarine Launched UAVs


September 15, 2006: A U.S. Navy (and Marine Corps) mini-UAV has been adapted for use from aircraft and submarines. The 40 pound Scan Eagle has a seven pound payload, can stay in the air for twenty hours and carries day, or night vision, stabilized (the image remains locked on the same area, even if the UAV is being buffeted by wind) camera. Using GPS, the UAV can either fly a pre-programmed route, or proceed under operator control via radio signals. The ground version is launched using a pneumatic catapult, and lands by flying by a fifty foot pole holding a "skyhook" system. Scan Eagle has a top speed of 93 kilometers an hour. Development began in 2002, and it entered service in February 2003.
The new version of Scan Eagle has been reconfigured so that it can be launched from a bomb rack on an aircraft, or from a torpedo tube in a sub. Once launched, the wings pop out and the gasoline engine starts. The "air/sea" Scan Eagle has the same flight characteristics of the land based version, and can be recovered by a ship or on land, or just allowed to crash.
All versions of the Scan Eagle cost about less than $100,000. An operator in the launching aircraft or submarine controls the UAV, much like is done on land (using a radio link and a laptop equipped with control software.) The air launched version enables one aircraft to keep a close eye on a large amount of terrain, although the Scan Eagle will probably use a satellite commo link to enable operators on the ground (and probably far away) to control the UAVs after the manned aircraft run out of fuel and must depart. Submarines use a mini-torpedo, that, after reaching the surface, ejects the Scan Eagle high enough into the air so that the wings can pop out and the engine start. Once airborne, the Scan Eagle gives the submerged sub (using an antenna floated to the surface and connected to the sub via a cable) twenty hours of UAV reconnaissance. This can be used for all sorts of missions.
The air-launched Scan Eagle is also being adapted for launch from transports like the C-130 and MV-22.


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