Drones Approved for Flight In the US

February 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

The FAA funding bill recently signed into law by President Barack Obama is set to significantly increase the use of unmanned aircraft in the United States. Developed for military use in armed conflicts, drones such as the Predator, manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, have played an essential role in surveillance and other activities in hostile territories. Apart from the drones used by authorities to monitor remote areas for criminal activities, and some research companies and universities that have FAA permission to pilot the unmanned aircraft, the Federal Aviation Administration has held back on allowing unmanned flights inside the United States until now.

With the new legislation, the aviation industry is expanding into robotic technology, with around fifty universities, companies and government organizations reportedly developing up to 155 different drone designs, ranging from Boeing 737 size to the size of a model airplane. Some of the areas in which drones are likely to be used are for surveying property, fighting forest fires and spraying crops. It is anticipated that the unmanned vehicle industry, which is currently worth an estimated $4.3 billion, will climb to $11 billion by the year 2020.

The FAA is required to develop a plan within the next twelve months detailing how it will integrate unmanned aircraft into US airspace by September 30, 2015. To comply with the act, the FAA must liaise with relevant government agencies within 90 days to process applications for permission to fly drones. The new regulations may lead to police officers being approved to fly drones weighing up to 4.4 pounds, with the proviso that they are always kept within eyesight; are only flown in daylight; remain at least five miles away from airports; and keep below a height of 400 meters.

Safety issues, funding and privacy concerns are among the objections raised by opponents to the new bill. While at some time in the future it is likely drones will have the ability to detect obstacles and other aircraft, and avoid them, the technology is not yet available, raising concerns regarding safety. Privacy concerns include the unmonitored surveillance of private citizens. Although law enforcement helicopters do not currently have any restrictions preventing them from carrying out surveillance of private property, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argue that new technology opens up opportunities for even closer scrutiny and there should be checks and balances in place to protect civilian rights.

Government relations manager and general counsel for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Ben Gielow, noted that there is huge potential in the United States for unmanned aircraft. He also pointed out that, contrary to the public’s perception of drones being the large Global Hawks or Predators, most of the unmanned aircraft that will be taking to the skies are likely to weigh less than 10 pounds and measure a couple of feet in diameter . The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International has 7,000 members and represents 500 companies involved in the manufacture of air, ground and sea drones.

Innovative New Aircraft From South Africa

October 4, 2011 by  
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South African companies Aerosud Holdings and Paramount Group have unveiled what is believed to be the first all-African produced defense aircraft. Dubbed the Ahrlac – Advanced High Performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft – its developers believe that it will fill a gap in the market for an aircraft that can undertake military and civilian surveillance work. Managing Director of Aerosud, Paul Potgieter, noted in a statement that there is nothing quite like the Ahrlac in the marketplace, and it will primarily cater to African governments undertaking peacekeeping and humanitarian work, as well as serving a role in combat situations.

The compact, two-person Ahrlac features a rear-mounted propeller and bulbous cockpit to facilitate an unobstructed view which is essential for reconnaissance. Group Chairman of Paramount Group, Ivor Ichikowitz, expressed his view that the future of peacekeeping and defense in Africa will be airborne, and with the ability to fly at different speeds and remain airborne for up to seven hours, the Ahrlac will be ideal for African governments which have to deal with vast distances and unsecured borders. Moreover, most African countries do not have the financial resources to avail themselves of jet and helicopter technology, and the Ahrlac will be marketed as a more affordable alternative.

The marketing of the Ahrlac will not be restricted to defense ministries, but will include border patrols, policing authorities and forestry agencies in Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe. The aircraft will be produced at Aerosud’s premises based in Centurion near Johannesburg. The company already manufactures wing components, galleys and seats for European Aeronautic Defense & Space Co.

By concentrating their efforts in Africa, Paramount and Aerosud will have the advantage over Western contractors, and with the South African defense industry reportedly poised to overhaul the armed forces, the market appears ready for this innovative aircraft. While the developers are keeping tight-lipped about who their customer is, Ichikowitz has been reported as saying that they have received an order for fifty aircraft at a cost up just under $10 million each. Production of two to three Ahrlac aircraft per month is expected to start in late 2012 or at the beginning of 2013.

E-2C Hawkeye

February 9, 2009 by  
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The E-2C Hawkeye is primarily used as an aerial early warning system and a control center for commanders in battle. The United States Navy employs the E-2C Hawkeye as a carrier-based aircraft for the use of the Joint Force Commander and Carrier Strike Group. The E-2C is also used for search and rescue operations, law enforcement, and communications relays as well as for other assorted missions.

The aircraft’s electronic surveillance systems can detect ground and air threats in advance and provide early warnings. The E-2C Hawkeye’s ability to perform well in darkness and in almost any weather makes it especially useful and reliable in difficult conditions.

Though the E-2C Hawkeye first entered service in 1973, it has received numerous upgrades to keep it up-to-date and operational. Upgraded parts have included radar displays, engines, and propellers as well as the passive and active sensors. Continuous upgrades are expected well into the future for the E-2C Hawkeye.

In 2011, the Advanced Hawkeye (AHE) is expected to enter naval service, but will likely not replace the E-2C completely. The AHE aircraft’s design is based on the E-2C Hawkeye but it will have more advanced radar and an improved threat warning system, target detection, and surveillance capabilities.

Besides the United States, the French Navy, Egyptian Air Force, Republic of Singapore Air Force, Japanese Self Defense Air Force, and the Taiwan Air Force all fly the E-2C Hawkeye.

Maximum speed: 338 knots
Cruise speed: 268 knots
Range: 1,300 nautical miles
Ceiling: 30,000′
Length: 57′ 6″
Wingspan: 80′ 7″
Height: 18′ 3.75″
Maximum weight: 54,426 lbs
Engine(s): Two Allison T56-A-427/A turboprop engines (5,100 ESHP each)
Crew: Five
Armament: Surveillance equipment and systems only
Contractor: Northrop Grumman

References: Northrop Grumman and the United States Navy

MQ-5B Hunter

February 9, 2009 by  
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The MQ-5B Hunter is an unmanned aircraft used for surveillance, reconnaissance, battle damage assessment, and identification of enemy targets. The medium altitude MQ-5B is based on the RQ-5A Hunter, which Northrop Grumman built for the U.S. Army in 1996. The newer generation Hunter can be operated by enlisted soldiers and minimal maintenance is required of the aircraft.

The MQ-5B Hunter transmits video imaging of mission targets to monitoring units, which then forward that information to battle commanders. It can also send that information directly to commanders or ground soldiers. The MQ-5B Hunter does this through the use of its onboard infrared sensors.

After reporting enemy target locations and receiving permission to attack, the MQ-5B can fire its own weapons and laser guide them to the target and it can also assess damage to the target, reporting that information back to ground commanders.

The avionics suite that the MQ-5B Hunter relies on are the most advanced in the U.S. military. It allows the airplane to be programmed for automatic takeoff and landing. One of its most unusual features is that the MQ-5B Hunter can control another Hunter over ground obstacles or extreme distances.

As part of the U.S. Army’s quest to use only one type of fuel for its engine powered equipment, which it calls the “Military Single Fuel Forward Logistics”, the MQ-5B Hunter was designed to use JP-8 heavy fuel. Despite some of the disadvantages of heavy fuel, one of which can be less power, Northrop Grumman claims that the heavy fuel engine permits the MQ-5B Hunter to climb faster and maintain high altitudes.

Wingspan: 34.25′
Length: 23′
Maximum GTOW: 1,950 plus lbs
Power Plant: Heavy Fuel Engine (“HFE”)
Maximum External Payload Per Wing: 130 lbs
Maximum Payload (including fuel): 500 lbs
Loiter Velocity: 60-80 knots
Maximum Velocity: 120 knots TAS
Maximum Altitude: Up to 22,000′
Endurance: 21 Hours

P3 Orion

February 9, 2009 by  
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The P-3 Orion has made its reputation as a formidable submarine finder, though its maritime duties also include sea patrols and reconnaissance. Not only is the P-3 Orion used extensively by the United States Navy, it is flown by the German and Pakistan Navies. Many other countries have at least one P-3 as well, including Spain, Britain, and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.

Lockheed Martin delivered the first P-3 in 1962 and the Orion served the United States military for more than 35 years. The aircraft was used in the 1960s during the Cuban Missile Crisis and continues to perform patrols around the world. One of the Orion’s advantages over other planes is its ability to stay aloft for extended missions in excess of 10 hours. It can also fly at high or low altitudes. What makes it particularly valuable is the P-3’s ability to perform accurate and reliable reconnaissance work at great distances from its subjects, and even monitor target activity using special cameras and infrared equipment. The Orion can pinpoint the exact location of individuals and record their activity even from a great distance and completed more than 1,200 combat surveillance sorties during the Desert Storm engagement alone.

Armament for the Orion P-3 can be customized to the mission. It can employ sonobuoys, missiles, and bombs. In addition to combat surveillance missions, the P-3 is also used for aerial surveillance and hurricane hunting. NASA has used the airplane extensively for suborbital research. The Orion has also taken part in various peace-keeping missions.

The Boeing P-9 Poseidon will likely replace the P-3 sometime between the years of 2010 and 2013. Until then, here are some general specifications about the P-3:

Maximum speed: 466 mph
Ferry Range: 5,600 miles
Ceiling: 28,300 ft
Length: 116 ft 10 in
Wingspan: 99 ft 8 in
Height: 33 ft 8.5 in
Maximum weight: 139,760 lb
Empty weight: 61,500 lb
Engine(s): four 4,600 shp Allison T56-A-14 turboprop engines
Rate of climb: 3,140 feet per minute
Crew: 11-12, including the pilot, co-pilot, third pilot, navigator, flight engineer, second flight engineer, tactical coordinator, two acoustic sensor operators, a radar operator, and an in-flight technician.
Armament: combination of bombs, missiles, torpedoes, mines, and depth charges
Contractor: Lockheed Martin

If you are a current or former military pilot and would like to submit an article about your experience or a story about the P3 Orion or any other aircraft (whether military or civilian) then please contact us so we can help you share your stories with other veterans, military pilots and aircraft enthusiasts.

U2 Lockheed

February 9, 2009 by  
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Though the U-2 remains in service after 50 years, it will probably always be most associated with the “Garry Powers incident” or “U-2 Crisis.” Since the 1950’s, the U-2 has only been used as a high-altitude surveillance aircraft for the United States Air Force.

The U-2 airplane was born out of necessity: The need by the CIA to secretly monitor the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Lockheed Corporation was tasked with designing an aircraft that could fly over the Soviet Union at an extremely high altitude while collecting top secret surveillance information for the Pentagon. The CIA believed that if the U2 could fly high enough, it would not be vulnerable to ground fire by hostile forces.

By August of 1955, the U-2 was activated for service. Polaroid Corporation developed and supplied the high resolution camera and photographic equipment necessary to capture detailed images of people up to 70,000 feet below on the ground.

In June 1956, the U-2 completed its first flight over the Soviet Union and on May 1, 1960, the world first learned about the U-2 when one of the aircraft, piloted by Francis Gary Powers, was shot down by the Soviets over its airspace.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, a U-2 was used to document the Soviet installation of nuclear warhead missiles in Cuba. Later, another U-2 was shot down over Cuba.

Because of the airplane’s unexpected vulnerability to Surface to Air Missiles (“SAMs”) the CIA concluded that replacement od the U2 was vital to US military and security interests. The first proposed solution was the Lockheed A-12 which later became the SR-71 Blackbird.

Ironically, the U-2 has remained in service even after the SR-71 has retired. By some accounts, the U-2 is expected to be decommissioned sometime between 2007 and 2011. Its replacement is uncertain.

The U-2 Dragon Lady is especially difficult to fly, in part because of its stall speed. The U-2 must fly at maximum speed in order to maintain its ceiling of 70,000 feet. However, the U-2’s stall speed is only five knots less than its maximum speed.

The aircraft’s long wings make it vulnerable to crosswinds thereby making the U-2 extremely challenging to keep on a runway. Because the U-2 flies at extremely high altitudes, the pilot is required to wear a space suit similar to those used by astronauts.

Some of the U-2’s specifications include:

Maximum speed: 510 mph
Range: 3,500 mi
Ceiling: 90,000 ft
Length: 62 ft 9 in
Wingspan: 103 ft
Height: 16 ft 1 in
Maximum weight: 41,000 lb
Empty weight: 14,990 lb
Engine(s): one 17,000 lbf Pratt & Whitney J75-P-13B turbojet
Crew: one
Armament: none
Contractor: Lockheed

If you are a current or former military pilot and would like to submit an article about your experience or a story about the U-2 or any other aircraft on this website then please contact us so we can help you share your stories with others.

Aircraft Flight Will Be Revolutionized By Biomimicry

December 4, 2008 by  
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The science of Biomimicry is not new to the scientific world, but every now and then it is taken to a whole new level. While aircraft have long been roughly designed in imitation of birds, they has always had certain set characteristics that set them apart. It seems all that is about to change.

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Saab Decides to Expand Aircraft Family

September 5, 2008 by  
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Swedish airplane contractor Saab has decided to expand its 2000 Special Mission family to include features which will not only help in matters of safety and security, but also assist in keeping our planet clean. The company has fitted out the basic airframe with new signals intelligence (SIGINT) and maritime patrol versions that will assist officials greatly in a number of different ways.

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New Garrow Aircraft A Novel Concept

June 26, 2008 by  
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At first glance it resembles some sort of toy – a sort of cross between an airboat and a paper jet – yet the new Verticopter is certainly not just a fanciful plaything for children. This innovative new aircraft is the latest creation to be developed by Garrow Aircraft and it is almost ready for mainstream production.

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FAA’s New En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) Program

June 6, 2008 by  
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The implementation date for the FAA’s new En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) program has been set for 29 June 2008. ERAM will replace the En Route Host computer processing systems currently in use at twenty Air Route Traffic Control Centers, making this the largest National Airspace System (NAS) equipment replacement program in the history of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

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