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Predators, Demons and More: The Wide World of Drones

Unmanned drones get more sophisticated with each generation -- faster, stronger, smarter. Here's the current crew of killer and recon drones, and a few from the future.

Northrop Grumman X-47B

Developed by Northrop Grumman, the X-47B is a tailless, strike fighter-sized unmanned aircraft designed to take off from and land on moving aircraft carriers at sea.

Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman X-47B

The Navy's experimental X-47B combat system won't be remotely piloted, but almost completely autonomous. Human involvement won't be of the stick-and-rudder variety, but handled with simple mouse clicks.

Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman X-47B

Northrop Grumman and the Navy said the X-47B would be piloted not by human handlers in some steel box in Nevada, but by 3.4 million lines of software code. The rest of its functions will be handled by non-pilot personnel and a click of the mouse: a click to turn on the engines, a click to taxi, a click to initiate takeoff, etc.

Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman X-47B

Northrop Grumman hopes to have successfully demonstrated the first carrier-based launch by 2013 with autonomous in-air refueling coming one year later.

Northrop Grumman

Insect Drone

A model of an insect size U.S. Air Force drone is held by a member of the Micro Air Vehicles team of the Air Force Research Laboratory, which is developing small drones at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Reuters

UAV Group

A group photo of aerial demonstrators at the Naval Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Air Demo held at the Webster Field Annex of Naval Air Station Patuxent River. Pictured are (front to back, left to right) RQ-11A Raven, Evolution, Dragon Eye, NASA FLIC, Arcturus T-15, Skylark, Tern, RQ-2B Pioneer, and Neptune.

U.S. Navy

Boeing Phantom Eye

Boeing claims that its hydrogen-powered Phantom Eye unmanned airborne system will stay aloft at 65,000 feet for up to four days. Read more

Boeing

Taranis Rolls Out

Named after the Celtic God of Thunder, BAE Systems' new stealth plane Taranis is an autonomous UAV system. Read more

BAE Systems

Taranis, From the Side

The plane is unique in that it can fly itself, without piloting from the ground. It is equipped with two internal bomb bays to carry a wide range of weapons.

BAE Systems

Phantom Ray

Boeing recently unveiled the fighter-sized Phantom Ray unmanned airborne system, a test bed for advanced technologies. Phantom Ray is designed to support potential missions that may include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; suppression of enemy air defenses; electronic attack; strike; and autonomous aerial refueling.

Boeing

An Early Phantom

Boeing's mockup of the X-45C UCAV shown on static display at Nellis AFB's 2004 "Aviation Nation" airshow.

Malfita, English Wikipedia project

MQ-5 Hunter

The MQ-5 Hunter is made by Northrup Grumman and flown by the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Hunter has been in service since the Balkans war, and was recently retrofitted in the MQ variant to run on heavy fuel and carry Viper Strike munitions.

Northrup Grumman

Heron TP

Israel's air force has introduced a fleet of large unmanned planes that it says can fly as far as Iran. Air force officials say the Heron TP drones have a wingspan of 86 feet, making them the size of passenger jets.

AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

RQ-4 Global Hawk

RQ-4 Global Hawk made by Northrop Grumman used above Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan by the U.S. Central Command. Boasts a full suite of electro-optical, infrared and synthetic aperture radar sensors. Can take off and land autonomously greatly reduces the potential for crashes, which have handicapped the Predator and Reaper.

Northropp Grumann

RQ-4 Global Hawk

RQ-4 Global Hawk made by Northrop Grumman used above Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan by the U.S. Central Command. Boasts a full suite of electro-optical, infrared and synthetic aperture radar sensors. Can take off and land autonomously greatly reduces the potential for crashes, which have handicapped the Predator and Reaper.

Northropp Grumann

BAE Demon

Being developed by the BAE Systems laboratory in London, the Demon flies with no fins. The entire body of the craft is shaped like a wing. Dozens of thrusters situated on its top and bottom shape airflow, replacing the work typically done by tail fins and ailerons. Onboard software varies the strength of each thruster to control pitch, side-to-side movement, or yaw, and roll.

BAE Systems

BAE Demon

Being developed by the BAE Systems laboratory in London, the Demon flies with no fins. The entire body of the craft is shaped like a wing. Dozens of thrusters situated on its top and bottom shape airflow, replacing the work typically done by tail fins and ailerons. Onboard software varies the strength of each thruster to control pitch, side-to-side movement, or yaw, and roll.

BAE Systems

Lockheed Martin Vulture drone plane

This is envisioned as something of a replacement for a small, geostationary satellite. Lockheed Martin’s design for the Pentagon’s Vulture program can stay aloft for five years. A suite of day-and-night cameras can scan a 600-mile swath, sending data back to handlers on the ground.

Lockheed Martin

Hermes 450/Watchkeeper

Made by Elbit Systems of Israel, this drone furnishes target coordinates over Israeli battlefields, and provides reconnaissance for British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It can hover for about 20 hours on its 34-foot wing, up to an altitude of 18,000 feet, providing real-time surveillance.

Elbit Systems

RQ-11 Raven

Made by AeroVironment, the Raven is the most prominent UAV with more than 7,000 units in service. Nearly every Army combat brigade in Afghanistan or Iraq has one. Three feet long and 4.2 pounds, the Raven is fitted with an electronically stabilized color video camera or an infrared video camera for night missions, which pan, tilt and zoom digitally.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Guillory / U.S. Army

RQ-11B Raven

Made by AeroVironment, the Raven is the most prominent UAV with more than 7,000 units in service. Nearly every Army combat brigade in Afghanistan or Iraq has one. Three feet long and 4.2 pounds, the Raven is fitted with an electronically stabilized color video camera or an infrared video camera for night missions, which pan, tilt and zoom digitally.

AeroVironment

Predator and FINDER

The FINDER being developed by the Naval Research Laboratory. Launched from a Predator drone, it is 5-foot-3 and 58 pounds, the FINDER, or Flight Inserted Detection Expendable for Reconnaissance, it can be flown via the Predator controls and directed to a smoke plume to sniff out chemical weapons or under a cloud bank to get a closer view of a potential target.

Naval Research Laboratory

Wasp III

Used by U.S. Air Force Special Ops, the Wasp weighs one pound and is a hand-launch flying wing outfitted with a day and night camera. An electric, two-bladed propeller makes it sneaky and quiet. 

AeroVironment

ScanEagle

The Scan Eagle is in use by Marine Corps troops in Iraq and aboard U.S. Navy ships anywhere in the world. The device is about 40 pounds and four-feet long with a 10.2-foot wingspan, and is powered by a gasoline engine for 15 hours.

Insitu

RQ-7B Shadow

This is being used in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Army battalions need tactical surveillance. It has flown hundreds of thousands of hours. A little more than 11 feet long, it weighs 375 pounds and has a wingspan of 14 feet. An infrared illuminator can laser-pinpoint targets for laser-guided missiles and bombs.

AAI

T-Hawk

The T-Hawk is made by Honeywell Corp. and used by U.S. Army infantry in Iraq. The T-Hawk can zip up to 10,000 feet for up to 45 minutes. At 16.5 pounds it is lightweight.

Honeywell

MQ-1 Predator

An MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle flies through the air. The aircraft provides intelligence, search and reconnaissance gathering features, and munitions capability to support ground troops and base defense.

U.S. Air Force

MQ-1 Predator

Avionics mechanics Jonathan Hagy and Russell Gordy work on an MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle at Balad Air Base, Iraq. The Predator provides armed reconnaissance, airborne surveillance and target acquisition for Iraq.

U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jonathan Steffen

MQ-1 Predator

An MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle takes off from Creech Air Force Base, Nev., for a training sortie over the Nevada desert.

U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson

MQ-1 Predator

An MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle and F-16 Fighting Falcon return from an Operation Iraqi Freedom combat mission. Both aircraft provide intelligence, search and reconnaissance gathering features, as well as munitions capability to support ground troops and base defense. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. Shannon Collins)

MQ-9 Reaper

An MQ-9 Reaper sits on a ramp in Afghanistan. The Reaper is launched, recovered and maintained at deployed locations, while being remotely operated by pilots and sensor operators at Creech Air Force Base, Nev.

U.S. Air Force

MQ-9 Reaper

The MQ-9 Reaper is a medium-to-high altitude, long endurance unmanned aircraft system. Reapers provide the joint force commander a persistent hunter-killer able to strike emerging targets. The MQ-9 also acts as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance asset, employing sensors to provide real-time data to commanders and intelligence specialists at all levels.

MQ-9 Reaper

A maintenance Airman inspects an MQ-9 Reaper in Afghanistan Sept. 31. Capable of striking enemy targets with on-board weapons, the Reaper has conducted close air support and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Rinze_200@f-m.fm

MQ-9 Reaper

The "Reaper" has been chosen as the name for the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle. The U.S. Air Force proposed the MQ-9 system in response to the Department of Defense request for Global War on Terrorism initiatives. It is larger and more powerful than the MQ-1 Predator and is designed to go after time-sensitive targets with persistence and precision.

U.S. Air Force

Predators, Demons and More: The Wide World of Drones

Unmanned drones get more sophisticated with each generation -- faster, stronger, smarter. Here's the current crew of killer and recon drones, and a few from the future.

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