Warplanes: Everyone Loves Raven

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October 15, 2007: The U.S. Army’s Raven UAV (RQ-11A) (VIDEO) has now been adopted by the U.S. Air Force. Last year, the U.S. Marine Corps replaced their Dragon View UAV with the Raven. In addition, all three services are using the newer Raven B. Nearly 4,000 Ravens (mostly the “A” model) have been produced so far. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) is also a big ser. In Iraq, Raven’s have flown over 25,000 sorties so far.

The 4.2 pound Raven is inexpensive ($35,000 each) and can stay in the air for 80 minutes at a time. The Raven is also battery powered (and silent), and carries a color day vidcam, or a two color infrared night camera. Both cameras broadcast real time video back to the operator, who controls the Raven via a laptop computer. The Raven can go as fast as 90 kilometers an hour, but usually cruises at between 40 and 50. It can go as far as 15 kilometers from its controller, and usually flies a preprogrammed route, using GPS for navigation. The Raven is made of Kevlar, the same material used in helmets and protective vests. On average, Raven can survive about 200 landings before it breaks something. While some Ravens have been shot down, the most common cause of loss is losing the communications link (as the aircraft flies out of range) or a software/hardware failure on the aircraft. The flight control software has a “failsafe” mode, so that when the radio link between aircraft and operator is lost, the aircraft will immediately head for home (where it was launched from).

Troops had taken to putting a label on each aircraft, saying, in the local language, that if the aircraft is returned to the nearest American military unit, there will be a reward. Several lost Ravens have been recovered this way. Raven B improves on that, with a rescue beacon in the tail, that puts out a location signal. If a helicopter can be used, the downed Raven can be quickly retrieved and repaired.

The Raven B (RQ-11A), introduced this year, weighs a little more (4.3 pounds), but has much better sensors, and the option of carrying a laser designator. Raven B flight performance is better as well. The marines, who had much success with Dragon Eye UAV, are buying the Raven B because it’s the same, but better. The air force was using the seven pound Desert Hawk, and switched for the same reason. British troops were also using Desert Hawk, but have also switched to Raven.

The big advantage with Raven is that it’s simple, reliable, and it works. A complete system (controller, spare parts and three UAVs) costs $240,000. The UAV can be quickly taken apart and put into a backpack. It takes off by having the operator start the motor, and then throwing it. This can be done from a moving vehicle, and the Raven is a popular recon tool for convoys. It lands by coming in low and then turning the motor off. Special Forces troops like to use it at night, because the enemy can’t see it, and often can’t hear it as well.

The controller allows the operator to capture video, or still pictures, and transmit them to other units or a headquarters. The operator often does this while the Raven is flying a pre-programmed pattern (using GPS). The operator can have the UAV stop and circle, in effect keeping the camera on the same piece of ground below. The operator can also fly the Raven, which is often used when pursuing hostile gunmen.

Italy, Australia and Denmark are also using Raven, and several other nations are interested.

 


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