|Integrated Defense Systems|
Out of the Giant Shadow
ScanEagle takes to the skies in U.S. Navy exercise
BY CHICK RAMEY
ScanEagle, a Boeing long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle, took to the sunny Caribbean skies last month in support of the U.S. Navy's Giant Shadow exercise at a test site in the Bahamas.
By all accounts, the four-foot-long UAV performed very well in an operational environment. In five flights, ScanEagle demonstrated it could relay real-time data and provide video to participants in the exercise.
Giant Shadow was set up to explore how a network of forces consisting of a stealthy attack submarine, Special Operations Forces, unmanned vehicles and sensors could provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and then execute appropriate action.
Wayne Hammond, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems Giant Shadow project manager, said the exercise was a success for the Navy, and for the Boeing/Insitu Scan Eagle team as well. The Insitu Group, which is cooperatively developing the ScanEagle with Boeing, is based in Bingen, Wash.
"Overall we were in the air for more than 20 hours serving as a communications relay node," Hammond said. "We also provided over-the-horizon surveillance that included a live video feed to a Naval Command ship and to Naval Air Systems Command's time-critical targeting and network-centric warfare test aircraft.
"On one mission we provided footage of a simulated weapons-of-mass-destruction facility," Hammond added. "Personnel on the ship then compressed ScanEagle's images and forwarded the data on to additional Navy personnel."
During the exercise, the team launched ScanEagle from shore via a catapult. The UAV, which has a 10-foot wingspan and can fly at up to 68 knots, completed its missions at altitudes between 1,000 and 3,000 feet. It was recovered using a "SkyHook" technique in which ScanEagle hooks on to a rope hanging from a 50-foot high pole.
Hammond said the UAV that flew in the Bahamas was quite different from the one that made its first autonomous flight in June 2002.
"What we'd flown before was more of an experimental test planemade of aluminum and fiberglass," Hammond said. "The ScanEagle we took to the Bahamas is a pre-production vehicle made out of composite materialit's much lighter and stronger. Additionally, the five flights were the first time ScanEagle used its new stabilized gimbaled camera system, which allows the camera to swivel and better track and videotape targets."
The team is preparing to install a new "four-stroke" engine that will allow ScanEagle's endurance to increase from 15 hours to 60.
As ScanEagle testing moves forward, Hammond said Boeing will continue to talk to potential customers about the UAV's potential military, homeland security and commercial applications.
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