Warplanes: UAVs on Patrol


December 1, 2007: Although the British Army is now buying the U.S. Raven micro (4.3 pound) UAV for the infantry, it is still buying the seven pound Desert Hawk mini-UAV, which it has been using for some time. Battery powered, the Desert Hawk can stay in the air for up tp 90 minutes, flying a route specified by the operator and using onboard GPS and flight software for guidance. The recent $5 million order for more Desert Hawk III UAVs was for use in base security.

The Desert Hawk III UAV can be equipped with daylight or night (heat imaging) cameras. Everything seen on each flight is recorded, and simultaneously transmitted back to the operator, who views the video on a laptop computer. The UAV cruises at about 80 kilometers an hour and at an altitude of 300-500 feet. The UAV can operate up to 15 kilometers from its base station. The UAV is launched using a large elastic rope (a bungee cord, basically) and lands by just coming in low and turning off its motor. The UAV is made of plastic. The operators do not fly the Desert Hawk, but they can change its flight pattern while it's flying a mission, or command it to just circle a location. An onboard computer handles all the details of flying correctly and not spinning out of control. After one mission, the operator can put in a fresh set of batteries and launch it again. A Desert Hawk "detachment" consists of two sergeants and 520 pounds of waterproof carrying cases containing six UAVs, a laptop computer, communications equipment and a spare parts and repair kit. The UAV, once the parts are snapped together, has a 54 inch wingspan and is 36 inches long. New operators can be trained, on the job, in about a week. With about a dozen personnel, the six UAVs in one detachment can provide 24/7 coverage for a base. The manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, is also selling Desert Hawk to police departments (for stakeouts and general security) and utility companies (for checking pipelines and electrical transmission lines.)


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