Warplanes: Chinese UAVs For Sale

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February 5, 2010:  China is offering for export a 220 kg (484 pound) helicopter UAV. The U8E has a top speed of 150 kilometers an hour, endurance of four hours, range (from operator) of 150 kilometers and a payload of 40 kg (88 pounds). This is sufficient for day/night cameras, laser designators and the like. Police like these helicopter UAVs, soldiers less so.

The U8E is not the first helicopter UAV, as American firms have fielded several. The smallest is the MAV (Micro Air Vehicle). This 7.7 kg (17 pound) vehicle can fly as high as 160 meters (500 feet), and carries day and night cameras. The MAV is most useful in urban environments, where it can quickly flit around buildings and other obstacles. The MAV has its blades contained within a cylindrical enclosure, and uses software control to keep it stable in flight. All the operator has to do is tell it where to go. Endurance, as with helicopters, depends on altitude. At sea level, the MAV will stay in the air for about 60 minutes, before it has to be refueled (it uses the same fuel as military vehicles.) But at 10,000 feet (typical in Afghanistan) it can stay in the air for only about 20 minutes. The MAV and control equipment can be carried in a special container which, when loaded weighs about 40 pounds. It can be backpacked.

Then there is the remotely operated RQ-8 helicopter UAV used by the U.S. Navy. The RQ-8 is based on a two seat civilian helicopter, the Schweizer Model 333. The RQ-8 has a maximum takeoff weight of 1.5 tons. With its rotors folded (for storage on ships), the RQ-8 is 23 feet long and 9.4 feet high. Max payload is 600 pounds. The flight control software enables the RQ-8 to land and take off automatically. Each RQ-8 UAV costs about $8 million (including a share of the ground control equipment and some spares.) There is a similar, and larger, helicopter UAV called the A160T (based on the Robinson R22 manned helicopter), and it weighs three tons and can stay aloft for over 24 hours.

There has not been a big demand for helicopter UAVs, despite the growing number of models available for sale. China also offers fixed wing UAVs, which are about a generation behind Western models. The Chinese are willing to compete on price, but most heavy UAV users still prefer American or Israeli models.

 


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