November 17, 2014:
The manufacturer of the popular American naval UAV, ScanEagle, is now offering ScanEagle 2. This version has a more powerful and reliable engine. This means more power is available for sensors; from the current 60 watts to as much as 100 or (depending on what other equipment is operating) 150 watts. There is also a more user-friendly ground control system and a better onboard navigation system. Aside from a slightly longer fuselage, ScanEagle 2 is the same size as the original. The only operational difference is that the 2 version can only do 16 hours per sortie versus 24 for the original. This is OK with nearly all users, who rarely do 24 hour missions. Existing ScanEagles can be upgraded to the 2 standard by adding or replacing a few components. ScanEagle 2 will be available in 2015.
The original ScanEagle weighs 19 kg (40 pounds), has a 3.2 meter (ten foot) wingspan, and uses day and night video cameras. On ships it uses a catapult for launch and is landed via a wing hook that catches a rope hanging from a 16 meter (fifty foot) pole. This was recently replaced with the more compact CLRE (Compact Launch and Recovery System). On land ScanEagle can land on any flat, solid surface.
The ScanEagle can stay in the air for up to 24 hours per flight and fly as high as 6,100 meters (19,500 feet). ScanEagles’ cruising speed is 110 kilometers an hour and can operate at least a hundred kilometers from the ground controller. Scan Eagle carries an optical system that is stabilized to keep the cameras focused on an object while the UAV moves. ScanEagle has been flying for over a decade now and has been in military service since 2005. There are now twelve different naval organizations using ScanEagle plus many more commercial users.
In 2013 production began for the RQ-21A Blackjack UAV. This new UAV is made by the same company that produces ScanEagle and is meant to supplement, not replace, ScanEagle. The U.S. Navy and Marines, as well as the Dutch Navy, have ordered this 55 kg (121 pound) UAV, which has a 4.9 meter (16 foot) wingspan and can fly as high as 4,500 meters (15,000 feet) at a cruise speed of 100 kilometers an hour. RQ-21A can stay in the air up to 24 hours and can carry a payload of 23 kg (50 pounds). It uses the same takeoff and landing equipment as the ScanEagle. RQ-21A also uses many of the ScanEagle sensors, in addition to new ones that were too heavy for ScanEagle. The additional weight of the RQ-21A makes it more stable in bad weather or windy conditions.
The marines have ordered 32 RQ-21A systems (with five UAVs each), while the navy is getting four, and the Dutch are getting five systems (which include ground controllers and maintenance gear). The first RQ-21As entered service in 2014 and marines reported that they performed very well in Afghanistan.