Warplanes: Where Have All The Pilots Gone


April 30,2008: In the last month, U.S. Air Force UAVs (mainly MQ-1 Predators) have fired a dozen Hellfire missiles in support of ground troops. That twice the monthly number previously fired (in November 2006 and July 2007). Department of Defense officials have been criticizing the air force for not doing as much as they could (particularly with UAVs) to support the ground troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Department of Defense currently has 5,000 UAVs, but most of them are the small (under ten pound) ones used by the infantry, marines and Special Forces. The air force predators can are unique in that they can stay in the air for over 20 hours per sortie, and carry Hellfire missiles. The smaller UAVs can stay up 90 minutes at a time, and carry no weapons. The latest UAV to show up is the Reaper. While the original Predator was a reconnaissance aircraft that could carry weapons (two Hellfire missiles, each weighing a hundred pounds), the Reaper was designed as a combat aircraft that also does reconnaissance. The 4.7 ton Reaper has a wingspan of 66 feet and a payload of 1.7 tons. The Reaper can carry over half a ton of GPS or laser guided 500 pound bombs, as well as the 250 pound SDB, or Hellfire missiles. The Reaper also carries sensors equal to those found in targeting pods like the Sniper XL or Litening, and flies at the same 20,000 foot altitude of most fighters using those pods. This makes the Reaper immune to most ground fire, and capable of seeing, and attacking, anything down there. All at one tenth of the price of a manned fighter aircraft.


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