Like the extermination of dinosaurs that dwell at the early years of the planet some 160 million years ago in the late Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous period, technology seem to follow the same natural pattern, leaving the old to start something new.
History has it that it started as early as 1916 in what was known as A.M. Low’s aerial target. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs), drones or the present Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) evolved through the years and its existence has now come to threaten the phase out of fielded combat/fighter aircraft for its place in the National Defense inventory. Way back in the 1950’s during the cold war, drones, with the shape of small aircraft is loaded/ towed after a mother ship where it is left in the sky, loaded with remotely operated cameras, they could loiter in high altitude and take photographs of the target before being retrieved. Its evolution over the years with the development of computers and miniaturized electronic components has gone a fast pace eversince. Now they could perform multi-tasks including the equipage of weapons that could hit its target from a distance.
RQ-2 Pioneer – was introduced in 1986 and manufactured by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and had been utilized by US, Singapore and Israel over the passed years. It is powered by a piston engine and had been utilized for a variety of roles such as Artillery Targeting and Acquisition, Control of Close Air Support, Reconnaissance and Surveillance, Battle Damage Assessment, Search and Rescue, Psychological Operations among others. It has a range of 185 kilometers and could remain airborne for 5 hours at 200 km/hr speed.
GNAT 750 – the General Atomics GNAT is a reconnaissance UAV developed in the US in the late ’80s, it took the air in 1989. It is powered by a Rotax 912 piston engine and attains a speed of 212 km/hr and could remain airborne for 48 hours.
Aerosonde “Laima” – is a small UAV manufactured by Aerosonde Ltd. of Australia. Originally developed by Insitu, an American company that was later acquired by Boeing. Powered by an Enya R 120 model aircraft engine, it carries a small computer, meteorological instruments and a receiver for GPS navigation. It has a cruising speed of 140 km/hr and an endurance of 21 hours at a 3,000 km range. On August 1998, one variant named Laima completed a 2,031 mile (3,270 km) flight across the Atlantic Ocean. It was by far the first recorded crossing of the Atlantic by UAV.
IAI Heron – the Heron or Machatz-1 is a UAV developed by the Malat division of Israel Aerospace Industries. It is capable of 52 hours flight endurance at 35,000 feet. The Heron navigates using an internal GPS receiver and could be preprogrammed for autonomous operation after take-off. It could carry an assortment of sensors like infra red and visible light surveillance systems.
MQ-1 Predator – is another UAV from General Atomics utilized by the US Air Force under the MALE (Medium Altitude, Long Endurance) category. It is capable of reconnaissance and could be equipped to fire two air to ground AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. The aircraft was in use since 1995 and has seen combat over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia and Iraq. It is powered by one Rotax 914 turbocharged piston engine and could attain a speed of 217 km/hr remaining airborne for 18 hours.
RQ-7 Shadow – is another IAI manufactured UAV in service with the US Army and Marine Corps. It is basically used for reconnaissance functions and could be launched on a rail and recoverable with the aid of an arresting gear. Introduced in 2003, it is powered by one Wankel UAV engine and could remain airborne for 7 hours at a range of 109.5 km.
MQ-8 Firescout – is an unarmed autonomous helicopter configured UAV developed by Northrop Grumman for use of the US Armed Forces. It is an unmanned reconnaissance, situational awareness and precision targeting support platform. First flight was made in 2002 with introduction in 2003. It has a cruising speed in excess of 200 km/hr with an endurance of 8 hours and could reach operating altitude of 20,000 feet.
MQ-9 Reaper – is another UAV from General Atomics for use of US Air Force, Navy and British Royal Air Force. It is the first Hunter-Killer UAV of its kind capable of high altitude surveillance and long endurance. Powered by one Honeywell turboprop engine, it could attain cruise speeds of more than 300 km/hr and remain airborne for 28 hours fully loaded with sensors and armaments.
Bell Eagle Eye – or the Model 918 is the US tiltrotor UAV offered as an option among competitors for the US Navy’s VT-UAV program. It was developed from 1993 as a scaled prototype by Bell Helicopters and has its maiden flight in March 1998. Powered by one Pratt and Whitney PW207D turboshaft, it could attain maximum speed of 360 km/hr and could remain airborne for 6 hours.
RQ-4 Global Hawk – is obviously the biggest UAV of them all, in role and design it is similarly configured like a Lockheed U-2, the high altitude spyplane of the cold war. Manufactured by Northrop Grumman, it is equipped with one Roll-Royce AE 3007H turbofan engine, it could reach 650 km/hr speeds at 36 hours continuous airborne operation at altitudes of 65,000 feet. It is an indispensable weaponry fielded in Afghanistan and has sensors to penetrate cloud covers for the attainment of necessary ground data.