Civilian UAVs: No Pilot, No Problem

Global Observer

Powered by a liquid hydrogen fuel cell, California-based AeroVironment’s UAV can stay aloft for a week at 65,000 ft. 
 

With endurance measured in days instead of hours and applications from law enforcement to hurricane hunting, civilian UAVs are ready to take off, according to this Popular Mechanics article.

You probably haven’t yet seen a robot plane overhead. But more are flying all the time, and their promise is such that, like computers, they could move beyond commonplace to ubiquitous. “Technology is not the limitation,” says Rich O’Lear, vice president for Unmanned Aerial Systems at Lockheed Martin. “It’s the ability of people to conceive of ways to use the technology.”

Civilian UAVs have already demonstrated potential in a wide variety of missions. In 2005 researchers at the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration flew a 6-ft.-long Aerosonde into the heart of tropical storm Ophelia. Such flights are currently conducted by piloted transport planes at a relatively safe altitude of 10,000 ft. But because a UAV puts no crew at risk, the Aerosonde can be flown a few hundred feet above water, where winds whip at 175 mph and waves can top 60 ft. “It gets us to an area that’s very difficult to observe with manned aircraft, because of the danger,” says Joe Cione, the project’s lead scientist.

The U.S. forest service is also exploring UAV technology. This past October, in conjunction with NASA, it flew a modified Predator B, known as the Altair, over a 40,200-acre fire near Palm Springs, Calif. For 16 hours the aircraft, which is lighter than the military version and has a longer wingspan, circled at 43,000 ft., beaming down images that allowed the fire management team to pinpoint the perimeter of a dangerous blaze that killed five firefighters.

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One Response to “Civilian UAVs: No Pilot, No Problem”

  1. natdisdale Says:

    very interesting article. this plane is a boon to all mankind. fires,

    smugglers, and conflicts. didn’t realize it has been used for so long.

    just don’t let me take it for my commercial flight from L.A. to N.Y.C.

    this summer!!!!

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