Aircraft That Changed the World

We fearlessly (or foolishly) pick 10

Mark Dusenberry built and flew this replica of the Wright 1905 aircraft. (Dan Patterson)
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10. General Atomics MQ-1 Predator

In November 2002, a vehicle traveling in Yemen and believed to be carrying terrorists was destroyed by a Hellfire missile. What makes the kill historic is that it was executed by a flying robot. The first unmanned aerial vehicle to kill human beings, the MQ-1 Predator has changed the rules of warfare.

Built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the Predator has been operational in Bosnia since 1995 and now is flying missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Air Force deployed the latest version, the MQ-9 Reaper, to Afghanistan last October.

The Predator, which has an operational ceiling of 50,000 feet, is flown remotely by a “pilot” and two sensor operators housed in a trailer on the ground. The UAV has a nose camera, variable-aperture TV and infrared cameras, and a synthetic aperture radar to see through smoke, clouds, or haze. The RQ (R for “reconnaissance,” Q for “un-manned”) model flies long-endurance, medium-altitude surveillance missions, while the MQ (“multi-role”) version can carry up to four Hellfire II anti-armor missiles, two laser-guided bombs, and a 500-pound, GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition precision bomb.

Today, the United States and other countries are increasing their use of UAVs for civilian missions, such as law enforcement, border control, and ocean surveillance. Even Hollywood has discovered their potential, putting them to work as movie camera platforms. Here’s an aircraft that has changed not just the real world but the world of fantasy as well.


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