October 5, 2011: A Chinese firm recently showed off a helicopter UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle). Called the Z-5, few details were revealed, but the UAV appeared to be about 80 percent the size of the very similar American Fire Scout.
The U.S. has taken the lead in the development of helicopter UAVs, with several models developed in the last decade. The one most similar to the Z-5, the MQ-8B Fire Scout, is operating in Afghanistan and aboard warships. The U.S. Navy developed the MQ-8B. A similar model, the RQ-8B, died because the U.S. Army already had plenty of UAVs that got the job done. The navy kept Fire Scout because helicopters are more practical on most navy ships (for landings and takeoffs.) Navy Fire Scouts have been successfully used on frigates (in both the Atlantic and Pacific). There is a huge demand for UAVs in Afghanistan, so the navy sent several.
The 1.5 ton Fire Scout is based upon the Schweitzer 333 unmanned helicopter, which in turn is derived from the Schweitzer 330 commercial lightweight manned helicopter. Fire Scout has a payload of 272 kg (600 pounds), a cruising speed of 200 kilometers an hour, max altitude of 6,100 meters (20,000 feet) and endurance of eight hours. The U.S. Navy currently has eight MQ-8Bs and plans to acquire another 160 of them.
Earlier this year, another Chinese firm showed off a smaller helicopter UAV. The V750 weighs 757 kg (1,665 pounds) and has a payload of 80 kg (176 pounds). Max speed is 161 kilometers an hour and endurance is four hours. The V750 can fly a pre-programmed route, or be controlled by a ground operator (up to 150 kilometers away.) The manufacturer is offering the V750 for civilian (scientific survey, search and rescue, police surveillance) and military uses. The Z-5 appears to be a lightly larger version of the V750. In addition to military uses, these UAVs can also be very useful for police, border patrol and coast guard duties.