Warplanes: Reaper Goes Robotic

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March 19, 2007: The U.S. Air Forces new Predator B (officially the MQ-9 Reaper) is now officially in service, after several years of beta testing. The MQ-9s cost has doubled in the last few years, to about $18 million per aircraft. The 4.7 ton Reaper has a wingspan of 66 feet and a payload of 1.7 tons. Only ten are in service, with another four being delivered in the next year. Reaper is considered a combat aircraft, because it can carry half a ton of bombs or missiles. This includes the hundred pound Hellfire missile, and 500 pound laser or GPS guided smart bombs. Reaper has a laser designator, as well as day and night (infrared) cameras. Reaper can stay in the air for over 24 hours and operate at up to 50,000 feet. It's sensors have excellent resolution, and are effective at high altitudes.

Predator/Reaper squadrons normally have twelve UAVs (sometimes twice as many), and 400-500 personnel. Only about two thirds of those troops go overseas with the UAVs. The rest stay behind in the United States, and fly the Predators via a satellite link. Normally, each UAV is controlled by a pilot and a sensor operator. But new, more efficient controls, enable one pilot to handle up to four UAVs at once, but in practice, this has not yet got beyond two UAVs per operator. New software is being developed to take over more of the sensor operators work. Year by year, the UAVs become more like robots, and less remotely controlled vehicles.

 


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