In the Museum: Predators and Dragons

Stops on a tour through america’s hangar

Advances in modern military UAVs have made it possible to strike an enemy from relative safety miles above ground. (Eric Long)
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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.”

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