Military’s unmanned aircraft go Smithsonian

The National Air and Space Museum this week opened an exhibit that celebrates unmanned flight technology. Six aircraft representing a variety of unmanned aircraft are being featured in the "Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles" exhibition.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are used by all four military branches for missions ranging from reconnaissance and surveillance to attack and each branch is represented in this exhibit: Predator, DarkStar, X-45A (Air Force); Shadow 200 (Army); Dragon Eye (Marine Corps); and Pioneer (Navy), according to a release.

Likewise, a wide variety of technologies are on display: jets, piston-driven props and electric motors for propulsion; and surveillance radars, precision bombs and missiles for combat use.

The UAVs e featured in the exhibition include:

* General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, MQ-1L Predator A: The Predator is capable of both reconnaissance and attack missions. It has been used in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq and other global locations. The US Air Force Predator displayed flew 196 combat missions in the skies of Afghanistan and was one of the first three UAVs to fly operational missions there after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

* Lockheed Martin/Boeing DarkStar: The DarkStar was developed by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works and Boeing Defense and Space Group to provide sustained reconnaissance information from anywhere within enemy territory, day or night, in all types of weather.

* AeroVironment Dragon Eye: In early 2001, the Naval Research Laboratory and the US Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory designed and built the Dragon Eye reconnaissance mini-UAV. Dragon Eye is a fully autonomous, hand- or bungee-launched UAV designed to provide tactical reconnaissance and surveillance information to field commanders. The Dragon Eye is on display in a case also containing its computer control, eye goggles (to see what the sensors see), a parts-and-tool kit and bungee-cord launching system.

* Pioneer RQ-2A: The Pioneer performs a wide variety of reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition and battle damage-assessment missions. Pioneer's electro-optical sensors and infrared camera provide real-time images of the target area to field commanders. The vehicle on display served with the US Navy during the 1991 Gulf War. On one notable mission, a group of Iraqi fighters surrendered to the vehicle as it flew over their heads. Marines were directed to their position, where they then captured the fighters.

* AAI Corporation RQ-7A Shadow 200: The RQ-7A is a twin-boom pusher design and has non retractable tricycle landing gear for conventional, wheeled takeoff and landing. The RQ-7A also can be launched from a catapult and has a tail hook to catch arresting cables for a shorter landing run. The Screamin' Demon on display flew with the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division, Stryker Brigade Combat Team No. 2, and the 82nd Airborne Division. Its last combat flight in Iraq took place Sept. 12, 2005, totaling 124 missions and nearly 500 flight hours.

* Boeing X-45A Joint Unmanned Combat Air System: The X-45A was the first modern unmanned aerial vehicle designed specifically for combat strike missions. The X-45A first flew in May 2002. Air vehicle No. 1 performed the first autonomous flight of a high-performance, combat-capable UAV; the first weapons release from an autonomous UAV; and, with air vehicle No. 2, the first autonomous multi-vehicle coordinated flight.

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