Warplanes: April 25, 2005


China, Iran and Cuba are taking a very serious interest in the security and military uses of ultralight aircraft.  These are essentially single seat powered flying machines weighing about 250 pounds, or less. They rarely move faster than a hundred kilometers an hour, but can stay up for several hours and reach altitudes of 5,000 feet or more. These aircraft evolved in the 1970s, out of attempts to equip hang gliders with engines.

China displayed a number of ultralights at the annual Zuhai Air Show, and has incorporated them into some military exercises. Cuba and Iran seem to be a little behind China, but still in advance of the rest of the world when it comes to using ultra lights for things like reconnaissance and surveillance. Both countries apparently being interested in their use for border and coastal security. All three countries seem to have also been conducting experiments in the use of ultralights as strike aircraft or for commando operations. This is a particular matter of concern given that terrorist groups like Hizbollah, already known to be operating UAVs, have been experimenting with them as well.


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