Warplanes: Robotic Choppers Get A Place In The Sun


February 26, 2011: Austrian aircraft manufacturer Shiebel is selling two of its S-100 helicopter UAVs to Jordan. The S-100 weighs 200 kg (440 pounds), can stay aloft six hours at a time and operates at a max altitude of 5,500 meters (18,000 feet). Max speed is 220 kilometers an hour. U.S. firm Boeing markets the S-100 in many parts of the world. Helicopter UAVs are considered superior in urban areas, or for operating off ships.

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 (two kg/4.4 pound) market with its Raven, the rest of the markets are up for grabs. Thus one of the traditional aviation companies, Boeing, is trying to grab market share via buying, or marketing, 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 (20 kg/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 over 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 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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