Warplanes: What A Difference Three Pounds Makes


August 28,2008:  British troops in Afghanistan have begun using the Desert Hawk III UAV for combat operations, in addition to the U.S. Army's favorite, the Raven micro (4.3 pound) UAV. Britain began buying the seven pound Desert Hawk mini-UAV last year, for base protection. But the UAV soon proved itself superior for combat operations.

Battery powered, the Desert Hawk can stay in the air for up to 90 minutes, flying a route specified by the operator and using onboard GPS and flight software for guidance. The Desert Hawk III UAV can be equipped with daylight or night (heat imaging) cameras. Everything seen on each flight is recorded, and simultaneously transmitted back to the operator, who views the video on a laptop computer. The UAV cruises at about 80 kilometers an hour and at an altitude of 300-500 feet. The UAV can operate up to 15 kilometers from its base station. The UAV is launched using a large elastic rope (a bungee cord, basically) and lands by just coming in low and turning off its motor. The Desert Hawk can also be hand launched like the Raven, but a strong arm is required. The UAV is made of plastic. The operators do not fly the Desert Hawk, but they can change its flight pattern while it's flying a mission, or command it to just circle a location. An onboard computer handles all the details of flying correctly and not spinning out of control. After one mission, the operator can put in a fresh set of batteries and launch it again.

A Desert Hawk "detachment" consists of two sergeants and 520 pounds of waterproof carrying cases containing six UAVs, a laptop computer, communications equipment and a spare parts and repair kit. The UAV, once the parts are snapped together, has a 54 inch wingspan and is 36 inches long. New operators can be trained, on the job, in about a week.

The Desert Hawk has several advantages over the Raven. Desert Hawk is quieter, more stable (because it is heavier and larger) and mounts a camera that can move independently of the aircraft. The British infantry have found these advantages sufficient to select the Desert Hawk III over the Raven.





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