Warplanes: September 14, 2004


Several companies are developing, and supplying, unmanned helicopter platforms unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) if you prefer -- simply by converting  existing manned helicopters to operate without pilots on board. The U.S. Army will be deploying a number of Vigilante 502s to Iraq to search Iraq for nuclear and chemical agents. The Vigilante 502, built by SAIC, is based on the Ultrasport 496 sports helicopter, a 2 seat ultralight that weighs in at 600 pounds empty. It hasan endurance of 2.5 hours and a cruise speed of 111 kilometers per hour; max speed is 166 kilometers per hour. The Ultrasport home-built kit costs $50,000 and is designed to be built and operated by amateurs. SAIC's version is stripped down and designed to operate for 9 hours with a 150 pound payload (radiation detector, chemical agent detector, and a turret-mounted camera.) 

Meanwhile, Boeing is going to fly an unmanned version of its MD 530F this month. The MD 530 can trace its heritage back to the Army's OH-6 light observation helicopter, which first saw service in the Vietnam War. Versions of the OH-6 are found today in service with the Special Operations Command (SOCOM), as the AH-6J light attack and MH-6J utility helicopters. Boeing's UAV variant would have a 800 pound payload with an endurance of 8 to 10 hours. Interestingly, it will be directed by a derived version of the company's X-45 unmanned combat air vehicle ground control station. Boeing is hoping SOCOM will pick up the helicopter to complement its existing AH/MH-6 fleet. Doug Mohney


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