Warplanes: Playing The Odds


May 5, 2010: U.S. aircraft manufacturers Boeing has resumed production of its A160T helicopter UAV. Workers and facilities are being taken from the Apache helicopter gunship production line, to begin work on building another five A160Ts. There are already twenty A160Ts out there, built by the company (Frontier Aircraft) that developed it. Boeing bought Frontier twelve years ago, and has been marketing the A160T ever since. The A160T has attracted attention as a cargo transport and intelligence aircraft (carrying sensors and specialized radars that work best in a hovering aircraft). The five new ones will be used for more tests of additional uses for the UAV. This is all part of a plan Boeing has.

While General Atomics has a lock on mid-size (1-5 ton) UAVs (Predator and Reaper), and AeroVironment has the bulk of the micro-UAV (under ten pound) market with its Raven, the rest of the market is up for grabs. Thus one of the traditional aviation companies, Boeing, is trying to grab market share via buying many promising UAV designs (A160T, ScanEagle, SolarEagle, Bat and the S-100 Camcopter). Boeing is hoping that one of these designs will catch on big.

The ScanEagle has become popular with navies, and is easily able to operate off the helicopter deck of a destroyer or frigate. The ScanEagle is heavy enough (43 pounds) to cope with the heavier winds often found at sea. The 1.5 ton A160T and .2 ton S-100 are helicopters, and able to hover. The A160T is also competing as a cargo carrier for the U.S. Marines. There are 200 S-100s on order, mostly by armies and navies eager to try out a helicopter UAV under realistic conditions (including combat). The SolarEagle is powered by solar panels and can stay aloft for days. The Bat is a unique blended wing (like the B-2) design, that is being scaled up to several different weight classes.

Boeing bought all these different designs as a way to have a wide array of UAV technology, and a better chance of hitting it big as the America (and other nations) look for their next generation of UAVs. So far, the best seller of the Boeing line of UAVs is the ScanEagle, and over fifty a month are being produced. The ScanEagle sells for about $100,000 each.





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