Murphy's Law: Size Does Matter

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November 26, 2011: For over five years, the American infantry's favorite UAV has been the tiny (2.2 kg/4.4 pound) Raven micro-UAV. But over the last few years, the slightly larger (3.2 kg/7 pound) Desert Hawk 3 (DH3) [PHOTO] has been gaining in popularity. DH3 uses an Xbox like controller, which most troops are already familiar with. The UAV, once the parts are snapped together, has a 1.4 meter (54 inch) wingspan and is 92 cm (36 inches) long. New operators can be trained, on the job, in about a week.

Battery powered, the DH3 can stay in the air for up to 90 minutes, flying a route specified by the operator and using onboard GPS and flight software for guidance. The DH3 can be equipped with daylight or night (heat imaging) cameras. Because of the larger carrying capacity, DH3 can carry a more powerful and stable camera than Raven. Everything seen on each flight is recorded, and simultaneously transmitted back to the operator, who views the video on a handheld controller or laptop computer.

DH3 cruises at about 80 kilometers an hour and at an altitude of 100-160 meters (300-500 feet). The UAV can operate up to 15 kilometers from its base station. The UAV is launched using a large elastic rope (a bungee cord, basically) and lands by just coming in low and turning off its motor. The Desert Hawk can also be hand launched like the Raven, but a strong arm is required.

The DH3 is made of plastic. The operators do not fly the Desert Hawk, but they can change its flight pattern while it's flying a mission, or command it to just circle a location. An onboard computer handles all the details of flying correctly and not spinning out of control. After one mission, the operator can put in a fresh set of batteries and launch it again.

While DH3s can be issued in ones and twos to infantry units, the British form Desert Hawk detachments. These units consist of two sergeants and 236 kg (520 pounds) of waterproof carrying cases containing six UAVs, a laptop computer, hand held controllers, communications equipment and a spare parts and repair kit. 

The Desert Hawk has several advantages over the Raven. Desert Hawk is quieter, more stable (because it is heavier and larger) and mounts a camera that can move independently of the aircraft. Because of this, most infantry have found these advantages sufficient to select DH 3 over the Raven.

The DH3 was long used mainly for route security (protecting convoys from roadside bombs and ambush), base security and in support of raids and patrols. Captured Taliban are united in their hatred of the DH3, because it makes it difficult to remain hidden, and get away safely from foreign troops and smart bombs.

 


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