Warplanes: February 2, 2004


The U.S. Marine Corps is returning to Iraq with as many Dragon Eye mini-UAVs as they can get their hands on. The five pound aircraft is launched with a large rubber band and transmits pictures back to a laptop computer, which also contains the software that controls the aircraft. With a 45 inch wingspan, the battery powered Dragon Eye can stay in the air for about an hour and can fly up to ten kilometers from the operator. Only one Dragon Eye went to Iraq last year, and it was out of action after a week when the laptop that controlled it broke. But for that one week, the Dragon Eye performed well, and continued to do so when the marines returned to the United States. The Dragon Eye has proved very useful in training, and the marines are trying to get as many as 180 of the small UAVs for the units returning to Iraq this year. Eventually, the marines plan to buy 1,026 of the aircraft and 342 ground control units. The Dragon Eye uses many of the same components as the Air Force Desert Hawk mini-UAV. That means that the operator doesn't have to "fly" the UAV, just indicate on the laptop screen what route it should take, and use a mouse click to show it where it should just circle. Each $100,000 Dragon Eye unit has three aircraft, a ground control station (radio transmitter/receiver, laptop) and maintenance equipment. The aircraft is very popular with company commanders, who can quickly send a Dragon Eye up to check out an area before they enter it, and keep an eye on surrounding areas during operations. 




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