Warplanes: France Builds A Better Predator


May 20, 2010: French manufacturer Sagem has completed its initial flight tests for its new, one ton, Patroller UAV. Weighing about the same as the American Predator, Patroller has similar characteristics. Patroller is designed to fly up to 30 hours per sortie, and at altitudes of up to 8,000 meters (25,000 feet). Further testing of flight control software and sensors are needed, and Patroller is expected to be ready for service in about 18 months.

Sagem had earlier developed and sold the smaller Sperwer UAV. France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, Greece and Canada had all used Sperwer, which got its first heavy use during Balkan peacekeeping missions in the 1990s. Afghanistan was another story.

The Canadians used their Sperwers heavily in Afghanistan, and paid to improve the Sperwer flight control software, to make the UAV more stable when landing under windy conditions. It's often windy in Afghanistan. Still, troops were envious of superior UAV types they saw in use by other nations.

The $2.6 million Sperwer LE (Long Endurance) weighs 351 kg/772 pounds, carries a 50 kg/110 pound payload, is 3.9 meters/12 feet long and has an endurance of 12 hours. Sperwer can operate up to 200 kilometers from its ground control unit. But the Sperwer uses a noisy engine (think lawnmower) and flies low enough to be heard. This has not proved to be a problem, as the people below, if they are Taliban, either start shooting at the UAV, or try to run away. The Canadian troops came to depend on their Sperwers. The troops learned that operator experience is a major factor in UAV success.

The Sperwer suffered from the heat, dust and wind that is so abundant in Afghanistan, and eventually Canada replaced Sperwer with Israeli models. Sagem paid close attention to the Afghan experience of Sperwer, in designing Patroller.



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