Air Force, drones

US sends its giant spy drone to look for kidnapped Nigerian girls | Ars Technica

The drone that the United States Air Force sees as the replacement for the venerable U-2 spy plane is now flying surveillance missions over Nigeria as part of the search for 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorist group. A Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk flew a mission over Nigeria on Tuesday, according to an NBC News report.

The Global Hawk, which first flew in 1998, can stay airborne for up to 28 hours and has a range of 8,700 miles. It has a wingspan close to that of a Boeing 747, weighs more than 32,000 pounds, and carries the Hughes Integrated Surveillance and Reconnaissance (HISAR) sensor system, a down-market version of the infrared, optical, and synthetic aperture radar gear Hughes developed for the U-2.

via US sends its giant spy drone to look for kidnapped Nigerian girls | Ars Technica.

drones, Foreign Non-Coalition, Iran, Soutwest Asia

Iran claims to clone US stealth drone, but it looks fake | Ars Technica

The Iranian military claims to have successfully duplicated the RQ-170 Sentinel drone that was captured in Iran in 2011, and it has put the drone on display alongside the original. The home-built version, Islamic Revolutionary Guard officers claim, could be used to attack US Navy ships in the Persian Gulf. But outside observers believe the copy is about as capable of that as the mock-up of a US aircraft carrier Iran built, allegedly for a movie set.

On May 11, Iranian television broadcast a report from an exhibition by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force in Tehran, where Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was shown the two unmanned aircraft by military officers. “Our engineers succeeded in breaking the drone’s secrets and copying them,” an officer said in the video broadcast. “It will soon take a test flight.”

The RQ-170, built by Lockheed Martin, is a turbofan-powered unmanned aircraft flown by the 30th Reconnaissance Squadron, part of the Air Force’s 432nd Wing (the Air Force’s drone command). The aircraft first gained notoriety as the secretive “beast of Kandahar” during operations in Afghanistan in 2007. The Air Force is believed to have purchased 20 Sentinels.

Little is known about their operational role, though their “flying-wing” airframe appears to have been designed for stealthy reconnaissance and surveillance missions. It’s believed that the aircraft captured in 2011 by the Iranians was being used to conduct surveillance of nuclear facilities.

The Iranians claimed that they were able to jam the Air Force’s data link to the drone and take control of it, bringing it down for an almost soft landing. They also claimed that the drone was recovered nearly intact and that the Revolutionary Guard was able to download data from its onboard systems. While the US government disputed those claims, later reports indicated that it was within the realm of possibility that the Iranians had managed to take over control of the drone.

Just what sort of “secrets” the RQ-170 surrendered to the Iranians is not clear. But aviation industry analysts who saw the footage of the Iranian clone of the RQ-170 have said it appears to be a fake—nothing more than a cheap fiberglass mockup put together for propaganda purposes, similar to the mockup of a stealth fighter the Iranians displayed last year. (Footage of that plane “flying” appeared to actually be of a small radio-controlled model.)

“It seems their fiberglass work has improved a lot,” an industry source familiar with the RQ-170 told US Naval Institute News. “It also seems that if it were a functional copy, versus a detailed replica, it wouldn’t necessarily have the exact same landing gear, tires, etc. They would probably just use whatever extra F-5 parts or general aviation parts they had lying around.”

via Iran claims to clone US stealth drone, but it looks fake | Ars Technica.

drones, FAA

FAA fines ’80s band bassist for violating NYC airspace with quadrocopter | Ars Technica

The Federal Aviation Administration has slapped a camera-equipped quadrocopter operator with a $2,200 fine after he “endangered the safety of the national airspace system” with his three-pound aircraft last September. The fine comes just a few weeks after a federal administrative judge ruled in another case that the FAA has no jurisdiction over small remote-controlled aircraft—a ruling the FAA has appealed. The fine was levied on David Zablidowsky, a 34-year old Brooklynite and bassist for the 1980s cover band Rubix Kube, who flew his camera-equipped DJI Phantom quadrocopter off of a building on East 38th Street in Manhattan on September 30, 2013. In the process, he crashed the aircraft into multiple nearby buildings before it plummeted more than 20 stories to a sidewalk below, crashing 20 feet from a pedestrian. The pedestrian then took the drone and reported the incident to police. via FAA fines ’80s band bassist for violating NYC airspace with quadrocopter | Ars Technica.