Warplanes: Arrowlight Goes After Raven

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December 21, 2014: Despite the fact that the U.S. Army has thousands of RQ-11B UAVs for their troops and the troops are quite happy with the small (two kg/4.4 pounds) aircraft, there is one complaint that keeps being heard; the need for more endurance (flight time). A RQ-11B can only stay in the air for 90 minutes and most of the time that’s only 60 minutes. So the army is checking out alternatives. One similar UAV being tested is the Israeli ArrowLite, which has twice the endurance of the RQ-11B but is only 35 percent heavier. The ArrowLite is a 2.7 kg (6 pound) UAV that is also launched by throwing and lands by just gliding to the ground. The extra weight and some design features make ArrowLite more stable in high winds and nasty weather. ArrowLite can be assembled and launched within 90 seconds. Max altitude is 480 meters (1,500 feet) and other performance characteristics are similar to the RQ-11B. The controller is similar to a gaming console and has a 7 inch (17.5cm) display. ArrowLite can carry night or day cameras and a laser designator. The army bought 13 ArrowLites and troops are testing them in training and in combat zones.

ArrowLite, like most small UAVs, are sold as “systems.” For example each Raven B (RQ-11B) system consists of three UAVs, controller, spares and some tools. The RQ-11B was introduced in 2007, a year after the original Raven entered service in large numbers. This UAV is inexpensive ($35,000 each). The Raven is battery powered (and largely silent unless flown close to the ground). It carries a color day vidcam or a two color infrared night camera. It can also carry a laser designator and a new gimbaled camera is being bought. The cameras broadcast real time video back to the operator, who controls the Raven via a handheld controller, which uses a hood to shield the display from direct sunlight (thus allowing the operator to clearly see what is on the ground). The Raven can go as fast as 95 kilometers an hour but usually cruises at between 40 and 50 kilometers an hour. It can go as far as 15 kilometers from its controller and usually flies a pre-programmed route, using GPS for navigation. Raven is launched by having one soldier throwing it into the air while the operator turns on the engine and gets it stabilized.

Ravens are tiny aircraft that rapidly wear out in combat. The Raven is made of Kevlar, the same material used in helmets and protective vests, but there are many ways for one to be lost in combat. On paper a Raven can survive about 200 landings (just glide it into the ground) before it can no longer be used. That’s in peacetime operations. In a combat zone few Ravens make it past fifty or so landings. While some Ravens have been shot down, the most common cause of loss is a problem with the communications link (as the aircraft flies out of range or behind something that interrupts the signal) or a software/hardware failure on the aircraft. Combat losses have been high, as nearly 20,000 have been built and most of those have been lost on the battlefield.

Arrowlight is very similar to Raven in appearance and function. But being a more recent design it does many things Raven does and does them better.

 

 


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