Warplanes: Pilot Electronic Eyes Radar

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August 24, 2008:  The U.S. Air Force is putting together a sensor and software package for its UAVs (Peer, or Pilot Electronic Eyes Radar) to give these pilotless aircraft the ability to "sense and avoid" manned aircraft. The lack of such a capability limits many civilian applications, because of the danger of collisions with manned private and commercial aircraft. It also makes it more difficult for military UAVs to train in civilian air space.

In the combat zone, the military controls the air space, and can deal with UAVs the same way it does with warplanes, helicopters and artillery fire. But these rules tolerate a higher degree of risk than civilian aviation will tolerate.

The Peer package is being tested and tweaked, and the first UAV to get it, later this year, will be the Global Hawk. At 13 tons, this UAV is the size of a commuter airliner (like the Embraer ERJ 145). The new RQ-4B version is larger (wingspan is 15 feet larger, at 131 feet, and it's four feet longer at 48 feet) than the A model, and can carry an additional two tons of equipment. The air force expects to get the Peer package small and light enough for UAVs like the 1600 pound Hunter, which can only carry about 200 pounds of sensors and weapons.

The Global Hawk is in particular need of Peer, because it can cross oceans, and it "self-deploys" (flies from the factory to a U.S. air base, then on to an overseas base). While outside the combat zone, the Global Hawk requires additional support (aircraft and air controllers) to get it out of controlled civilian air space safely (and legally). But Peer will also make it easier to train with UAVs in the United States, and for UAVs to be used by law enforcement and civilian users. Police want to use UAVs for surveillance, as do many civilian users (to watch for, or monitor, forest fires) and many other uses.

 


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