New, Small Remotely Piloted Aircraft Deployed in Afghanistan

By Stew Magnuson

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — An Air Force Research Laboratory funded small unmanned aerial vehicle was sent to Afghanistan earlier this year to assist with perimeter security near bases, it was announced Sept. 16

The Skate, and hand-launched 2.2-pound unmanned aerial vehicle made by Aurora Flight Sciences of Manassas, Va., is intended for use by special investigations personnel who must go into villages near U.S. bases, said Peter LeHew, director of UAS operations at the company.

OSI investigators look into criminal activity that affect bases. "They need something to go a little bit outside the wire to help their team as they are going out."

The OSI teams were looking for something low cost and easy to use. The training on how to use it can be finished in about 45 minutes, LeHew said.

Unlike some of the other small UAS such as the Puma, it is not necessary to stand up and launch it like a football. The operator can hold it at about waist level, let the propellers run and then let go. It then descends almost straight up, which is close to a vertical launch. For that reason, the Army has also looked at the aircraft to launch from armored personnel carriers, he added.

The Skate has a range of 3.5 kilometers, endurance of about 60 minutes, and can fly up to 400 feet. With the controller, it weighs 7.5 pounds. It can fly with the controller or autonomously using waypoint navigation.

The light material, which looks and feels like Styrofoam, but is actually much stronger, is meant to take a beating. The propellers break away from the body if there is an impact, and are easily reattached, LeHew demonstrated.

Four systems were sent to Afghanistan in March, but the company was only recently authorized to speak about the program.

Carl Schaefer Jr., director of small UAS programs at the company, said Aurora is working with special operators as well as some commercial customers in the wildlife management sector. There are potential buyers in South Africa who are interested in it for anti-poaching operations.

"That is a big potential market for this," Schaefer said.

Topics: Robotics, Unmanned Air Vehicles

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