ScanEagle is an autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), part of ScanEagle® Unmanned Aircraft Systems, developed and built by Boeing and its subsidiary, Insitu Inc. The UAV is based on Insitu’s SeaScan miniature robotic aircraft developed for the commercial fishing industry.
ScanEagle carries either an electro-optical or an infrared camera in a gyro-stabilized turret. The camera has full pan, tilt and zoom capabilities and allows the operator to track both stationary and moving targets. ScanEagle vehicles can operate individually or in groups, fly above 16,000 feet (4876 meters) and loiter over a battlefield for more than 24 hours. The 4-foot-long (1.2-meter-long) ScanEagle UAV has a 10-foot (3-meter) wingspan and can operate in high winds and heavy rains. Its internal avionics bay allows integration of new payloads and sensors and ensures the vehicle will be able to incorporate new technology as it becomes available.
ScanEagle 2, announced in October 2014, includes upgrades such as expanded payload options; an improved, purpose-built propulsion system; a fully digital video system for improved image quality; reduced electronic magnetic interference environment; and an improved navigation system.
ScanEagle is launched autonomously by a catapult launcher and flies preprogrammed or operator-initiated missions. A patented Skyhook® system is used for retrieval. The hook catches the aircraft’s wingtip with a rope that hangs from a 50-foot-high (15–meter-high) boom.
The prototype ScanEagle made its first flight in 2002. In August 2003, ScanEagle A demonstrated its long-endurance capability with a 15.2-hour flight at the Boeing Boardman test range in Oregon. The flight was also the first time the test team put two UAVs in the air simultaneously. The first ScanEagle monitored the second, sending real-time video to the ground station. During the exercise, ScanEagle served as a multi-path data link simultaneously provided real-time video to a number of the participants.
In 2004, ScanEagle was deployed to Iraq with the First Marine Expeditionary Force, operating as a forward observer to monitor enemy concentrations, vehicle and personnel movement, buildings and terrain. In April 2005, the U.S. Navy signed a $14.5 million contract with Boeing and Insitu to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance coverage during Naval Expeditionary Strike Group missions and security for oil platforms in the Persian Gulf. In September of the same year, the Navy awarded a $13 million contract modification to provide ScanEagle system support for Navy high-speed vessels and an afloat forward staging base.
International customers include the military forces of Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, Spain and the United Kingdom. Civilian uses have included a weed detection program in Australia, an ice seal census in the Bering Sea, forest fire tracking in Alaska and conducting aerial flood plan research along the North Dakota and Minnesota border.
By 2014, ScanEagle had flown more than 800,000 combat flight-hours over land and sea, and it was estimated that at any given time, an average of 17 ScanEagle aircraft were in flight around the world.
In 2011, Insitu donated a ScanEagle unmanned aircraft that had supported Canadian Forces for more than 2,000 hours in Iraq and Afghanistan to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Toronto. In 2012, Insitu donated the historic ScanEagle aircraft that was part of a rescue mission to free Capt. Richard Phillips from Somali pirates to the Museum of Flight in Seattle.