Drones with Laser Weapons are coming



How do you sell the drone of the future? Build a laser into the dang thing. General Atomics, whose iconic Predator and Reaper drones are probably the first thing that come to mind when someone thinks “drone,” is independently funding the integration of a 150-kilowatt laser weapon into its Avenger (or Predator-C) drone. The Avenger is the younger, jet-powered sibling to the iconic “War on Terror” drones, but it still hasn’t yet found its niche. Carrying afreakin’ laser may change that, and make it an attractive tool for the Pentagon.

It helps that the laser is particularly powerful. The American military is developing several laser weapons, like the Army’s truck-carried HEL MD, but that one was first tested with a 10kW laser, with plans to increase it to 50kW and then 100 kW. Last year the U.S. Navy actually deployed a laser weapon to the Persian Gulf, but the Laser Weapon System mounted on the USS Ponce is only 30kW. Power matters, though it’s not the only factor. For a laser to burn through a target, it needs both time and power. Ground- or ship-mounted lasers can afford to be a little weaker since, unlike fast-moving planes, it’s likely they can keep their beam on target longer.

The Avenger flies at up to 460 mph, so its more powerful 150kW laser is one way to ensure it destroys what it hits, whether it’s another drone or an incoming missile. Targeting computers help too.

Defense One notes that the company has its work cut out for it:

Bringing these two technologies together involves a lot more than strapping a laser cannon under the drone’s wings. Hitting a target with a laser mounted on a vibrating platform moving quickly through air laden with dust and water vapor is tougher than launching a Hellfire at a moving vehicle.

“Before you spend any money on a laser you better darn well show that you can acquire, ID, and track the objects of interest so that you could put a laser on them,” said [General Atomics Vice President for Mission Systems Michael] Perry. “You have to be able to compensate for aero-optic distortion.”

The company is currently testing their laser at White Sands in New Mexico. They hope to have a laser on a drone by 2017.

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NASA, General Atomics Complete Third Phase of Sense & Avoid testing


Evolving technologies necessary for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to safely avoid other aircraft while moving through the nation’s skies recently were put to the test using NASA’s remotely piloted Ikhana aircraft.

The Ikhana UAS soars over the Mojave Desert during a flight from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. NASA Photo/Carla Thomas
The Ikhana UAS soars over the Mojave Desert during a flight from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. NASA Photo/Carla Thomas
Equipped with a prototype system of Detect-and-Avoid (DAA) sensors working in concert with airborne and ground-based computers, Ikhana made 11 flights involving more than 200 scripted encounters with approaching aircraft.

Depending on the specific scenario, either Ikhana detected one or more approaching aircraft and sent an alert to its remote pilot to take action, or Ikhana itself took action on its own by flying a programmed maneuver to avoid a collision — an aviation first.

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FAA: Military drone flew out of control over Upstate New York


WASHINGTON, D.C. – A small military drone flew out of control last month along the Susquehanna River west of Binghamton, prompting a series of alerts and warnings to pilots in Upstate New York.

Operators of the unmanned Desert Hawk IIIreported losing contact with the fixed-wing aircraft at 3:21 p.m. July 24, according to a newly disclosed incident report from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA control tower at Binghamton reported that an operator of the remotely piloted aircraft called to say “they have lost control of a drone and to watch out.” Meanwhile, a pilot in the area reported spotting the rogue drone as it meandered through the region.

The FAA did not disclose the operator of the drone.

But a spokesman for Lockheed Martin Corp. confirmed Monday that the military drone was on a test flight from Lockheed’s facility in Owego, N.Y.

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Navy’s MQ-8C Fire Scout Prepares for Shipboard Testing


Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) successfully completed precision sloped landing tests Aug. 27 with the MQ-8C Fire Scout at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, in preparation for at-sea testing.

MQ-8C Fire Scout has been undergoing rigorous flight testing and validation, which will culminate in the actual takeoff and landing on the deck of a Navy vessel at-sea. The MQ-8C is the company’s latest variant of its successful Fire Scout unmanned aerial system, which performs intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions for the U.S. Navy.


Poland’s Flytronic Shows off “Ducted Fans in Wing” VTOL UAS


Polish unmanned air vehicle manufacturer Flytronic is using the MSPO defence show in Kielce to highlight its range, as Poland’s military looks to acquire systems across five weight categories.

Pride of place on its stand is the Manta LE, a hybrid-engined intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform that can offer vertical take-off and landing capability, as well as regular flight.

A pair of ducted fans concealed beneath covers in the wings provides vertical lift. The covers open and close automatically as the VTOL mode is engaged or disengaged.

Other comparable systems have tended to use tiltrotor technology to enable the transition to forward flight. However, says Marcin Pczycki, project manager at Flytronic, the company chose the ducted fans to reduce the number of complicated components that present difficulties over reliability.

So far, around 30 flights have been performed using three prototypes, says Pczycki, including VTOL manoeuvres.

Power for both the ducted fans and tail-mounted propellers comes from lithium-ion batteries that are continuously charged in flight by a small petrol-powered engine. The powerplant can even be switched off while airborne to enable a “quiet approach”, says Pczycki. “We are sure enough about ignition that we can switch [the engine] off and then start it again [in flight],” he adds.

Endurance for the Manta LE in its standard mode is around 20h; or 8h with VTOL operation. Maximum take-off weight also reduces from 140kg (308lb) to 70kg in VTOL mode, with empty weight at 50kg. Its wingspan is 6.6m (22ft).


New Mexico: State University, FAA pursue sought-after drone research

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LAS CRUCES, NM  A single white trailer sits near runway 4-22 at the Las Cruces airport, the antenna on top chatting with the 21.5-foot-long Aerostar A drone parked on the tarmac outside.

This is where New Mexico State University’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Test Center, once the lone such federally approved center in the nation, conducts most flight tests and evaluates procedures for unmanned aircraft as drones increasingly become part of everyday life.

Though drones are most often associated with military strikes on suspected terrorists abroad, scientists and CEOs are turning to unmanned aircraft to expand their research and businesses. Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos said he hopes to use small drones to deliver packages. Some photographers use drones to capture weddings. A tourist recently crashed his camera-equipped drone into Yellowstone National Park’s iconic Grand Prismatic Spring, and other parks have reported problems with drones buzzing loudly overhead or crashing into scenic landmarks as tourists try to capture unique photos.