Pilotless Aircraft Tested In Arizona

Pilotless Aircraft Tested In Arizona
May 18th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Pilotless Aircraft Tested In Arizona

Pilotless Aircraft Tested In Arizona
Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
May 18, 2008 By Max Jarman, Arizona Republic
Arizona's airspace is being invaded by a bizarre array of aircraft that resemble flying wastebaskets, giant cigars with wings and model airplanes on steroids.
They are unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, and they are becoming an increasingly important tool in warfare, border security and law enforcement. The unmanned planes are relatively inexpensive compared with conventional aircraft and can be flown on dangerous missions without putting a pilot and crew at risk.
Arizona, because of its clear skies, open space and roster of aerospace and defense companies, is emerging as a hub for the development and production of the pilotless aircraft.
Companies come from around the globe to test their technologies at Fort Huachuca and at Raytheon Co.'s unmanned-aircraft test site near Sierra Vista, one of a handful of such facilities in the country.
And at Honeywell Aerospace in Phoenix, Advanced Ceramics Research in Tucson and the Boeing Co. in Mesa, engineers are working on versions of the unmanned airplanes and the high-tech systems that make them fly and function.
The UAVs were initially conceived as reconnaissance and information-gathering tools but in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are increasingly being outfitted with weapons and being called upon to perform an expanding list of tasks.
The industry is growing at more than 10 percent per year, and sales are expected to reach $10 billion by 2012, according to some estimates.
Much on the momentum is coming from the U.S. military. After early battlefield successes in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military has been lavishing money on UAVs.
The Department of Defense forecasts that one-third of its strike force will utilize UAVs by 2010.
Their lower cost and potential for saving lives make them a no-brainer for the military, which is spending billions of dollars a year on purchases and research.
The proposed 2009 defense budget alone provides $2 billion to purchase unmanned aerial vehicles such as General Atomics' Predator and Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk.
A 2005 Air Force study estimated the cost of training a pilot at $700,000 and a UAV operator at $13,000.
Furthermore, UAVs do not require incremental pilot-related costs such as displays and instruments, ejection seats and environmental controls. The planes are smaller and lighter and more aerodynamic, which translates into lower component and fuel costs.
Honeywell's Micro Air Vehicle performs the reconnaissance work of a helicopter at a cost of about $250,000. That compares with $60 million for an Apache helicopter.
"There is a big push for procurement of these systems and a lot of money available," said Lindsay Voss, an unmanned-systems industry analyst with the market-research firm Frost & Sullivan.
There also is a growing commercial market for the planes, which analysts predict will eventually haul cargo and even passengers. Already the planes are being used to study air quality in California and global warming in Greenland. Police departments in Houston and Miami also are considering adding unmanned aircraft to their forces.
"They could be used for security, pipeline inspections, monitoring forest fires and collecting data on climate change," said Vaughn Fulton, manager of Honeywell's Micro Air Vehicle program.
Don Newman, director of unmanned systems for Raytheon Co. in Tucson, predicts cargo companies such as UPS and FedEx eventually will use unmanned aircraft.
"Think of the money they could save, if they didn't have to have pilots flying their planes," he said.
But there is a major hurdle that must be overcome before the commercial market for unmanned aircraft can be fully developed: the Federal Aviation Administration's reluctance to allow the planes to fly in the National Airspace System regulated by the agency.
The unmanned planes now fly in restricted airspace around military bases but must obtain hard-to-get special authorization to fly in the general air space.
Honeywell and other companies are currently working with the FAA to develop rules that would allow UAVs to safely share the airspace with conventional aircraft.
"It's really a groundbreaking process," Cuff said.
Once the FAA approved standards for using unmanned aerial vehicles in the National Airspace System, the industry is really expected to take off. That could be as soon as 2010, according to estimates.
"Everyone is waiting for the civilian market to erupt," Voss said.

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