In the Museum: Predators and Dragons
Stops on a tour through america's hangar
- By Rebecca Maksel
- Air & Space magazine, July 2008
(Page 2 of 2)
While the Navy has a long tradition of using remotely piloted helicopters, the Pioneer was its first fixed-wing UAV, and the aircraft was later used in contingency operations over Haiti and Somalia. Daso points out that the Pioneer’s Navy roots are clear. “It looks sort of like a Navy ship,” he says. “It’s got the gray, glossy paint, and if you get a little closer, you’ll see really big fasteners, really big rivets—they look just like the big bolts that hold the ships together.”
Two other combat veterans are also on display: the AeroVironment RQ-14A Dragon Eye, used by the U.S. Marine Corps, and the RQ-7A Shadow 200, which flew with the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division, Stryker Brigade Combat Team number 2, and the 82nd Airborne Division.
Not all of the UAVs displayed at the Museum have seen battle; some are prototypes, such as Boeing’s X-45A, the first UAV designed as a combat aircraft. David Abel, the crew chief on the test project, describes the two prototypes (the other is on display at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio) and their abilities: “The two aircraft would take off in tandem, go out to the predetermined test area, and a target would pop up on the ground. The two airplanes would communicate with each other and determine which was in the better position, which had weapons on board for the mission, and which had the fuel required to complete the mission, and that one would peel off and attack the target. They did it time and time again, and they did it very accurately.”
The best battlefield intelligence includes imagery from both UAVs and satellites, and the Lockheed Martin/Boeing RQ-3A DarkStar, designed with stealth in mind, was developed to linger undetected over enemy territory for hours at a time. “It’s the spookiest one,” says Daso of the saucer-shaped craft. The UAV never made it into production, however; after failures during flight testing, the Department of Defense terminated the program.
While the exhibit highlights the technological achievements of UAVs, Daso is quick to point out that the aircraft are only part of a complex system, and are incomplete without support personnel. “What’s so great about this exhibit,” he says, “is that you can educate kids and explain that you don’t have to be a pilot to fly these things—or design them.”