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Going vertically: a drone that can take off and land vertically is preferable not only for naval users but also for front-line troops. As in the case of manned aircraft, vtol performance means above-normal power and thus below-normal fuel, hence payload, range and endurance are penalised.

Four classes were originally planned for service by 2014 as elements of the US Army's Future Combat System. However, in January 2007 it was decided to defer Classes II and III.

In May 2006 Honeywell was awarded a contract by Boeing and Saic (joint FCS lead systems integrator) to develop the platoon-level Class I UAVS (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle System). This followed use of the AV RQ-11A Raven (also operated by the British and Italian armies) as an interim 'Small UAS'. Honeywell's backpack transportable Class I system, derived from the company's 7.8-kg ducted-fan Micro Air Vehicle (Mav), weighs 16 kg with two drones. It will provide the dismounted soldier with reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) facilities.

The Class II was to be a vehicle-mounted RSTA system with two hours endurance (twice that of Class I). Also a ducted-fan, the Class II was to be developed by the GoldenEye team, led by Aurora Flight Sciences.

The US Army's Class III was to have an endurance of six hours. An improved (fixed-wing) AAI Shadow 200 'Tactical UAS' was adopted as an interim Class III over the Piasecki Aircraft Air Guard, which is based on the Barnett Rotorcraft BRC-500 gyrocopter.

To digress, in 1992 another Piasecki (Michael W) had founded Dragonfly Pictures (DPI) to develop drone helicopters for use in making movies. The company's DP-5X was proposed by Darpa for Class III. In October 2006 firings were conducted from the DP-5X with the Metal Storm GE 40 grenade launcher.

The Class IV system is intended to provide continuous operation. The 1430-kg Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout helicopter, with an endurance of seven hours, has been selected for Class IV, but a Class IVB has now been created, specifying an aircraft with an endurance of 24 hours. The Army programme is worth 560 drones but appears to be drifting to the right, with first flight delayed to 2008 and IOC possibly as late as 2014. There are suggestions that early production MQ-8Bs should be equipped with the Northrop Grumman Airborne Standoff Minefield Detection System for use in Iraq in the counter-IED role.

The MQ-8B has also been selected by the US Navy for operation from its new Littoral Combat Ships. The first Navy MQ-8B had its maiden flight on 18 December 2006. Nine Fire Scouts are under contract for operational test and evaluation.


The US Marine Corps plans a three-tier system of drones. In the hand-launched Tier I category, the AV Dragon Eye (of which 53 systems are currently deployed in Iraq and five in Afghanistan) is being replaced by the same manufacturer's RQ-11B Raven-B, which is now the official Small UAS (Suas) not only for the US Marine Corps but also for the US Army and Socom.

As indicated earlier, the AV Wasp micro drone may very well be acquired by the US Marine Corps to appear in a 'Sub-Tier I' class.

The 18-kg Boeing/Insitu ScanEagle is used as the US Marine Corps's interim Tier II, and was deployed to Iraq in 2004. The ScanEagle is also used by the US Navy for oilrig protection in the Gulf, and by the Australian Army in Iraq. Fitted with a heavy fuel engine it has demonstrated an endurance of over 28 hours.

The US Marine Corps' new Tier II is referred to by the US Navy (which will also operate the type) as the 'Small Tactical UAS' (Stuas). The US Marine Corps is buying two of the Army's 170-kg AAI RQ-7B Shadow 200 systems to study possible commonality. The 140-kg BAE Systems Skylynx II is no longer aimed at filling the Tier II slot.

The current Tier III is the venerable Pioneer, which is due for retirement in 2015. It will be replaced by a Vertical Unmanned Aircraft System (Vuas), which may be the 1292-kg tilt-rotor Bell Eagle Eye as selected by the US Coast Guard, the MQ-8B Fire Scout or the Boeing A160 Hummingbird. Boeing has also proposed the 1400-kg optionally-piloted Unmanned Little Bird, based on the MD Helicopters MD530F.

Other US rotary-wing drone projects of note include the 5443-kg Kaman Aerospace 'Burro' based on the K-Max (and now backed by Lockheed Martin), 620-kg Boeing Maverick based on the Robinson R22 and the optionally-piloted 512-kg Saic Vigilante 496, derived from the American Sportscopter Ultrasport 496. AV is developing the AFRL SkyTote tail-sitter cargo-transport concept. In a much lighter category, the California-based Tactical Aerospace Group (Tag) offers a range of lightweights and is working with RTI of Australia to develop recoilless weapon installations for these drones.

The most successful European drone helicopter is undoubtedly Austria's Schiebel Camcopter S-100, of which over 100 have been ordered for three countries. In 2006 Saab unveiled its 150-kg Skeldar V-150, and Eurocopter announced the formation of the joint venture Vertivision with Helicopteres Guimbal to develop the VSR 700 Orka drone project.
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Title Annotation:Complete Guide
Publication:Armada International
Date:Jun 1, 2007
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