ScanEagle is an autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), part of ScanEagle® Unmanned Aircraft Systems, developed and built by Insitu Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Company. The UAV is based on Insitu’s SeaScan miniature robotic aircraft developed for the commercial fishing industry.
ScanEagle carries an electro-optic or a dual imager 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 above 15,000 feet (4572 meters) and loiter over a battlefield for extended missions of up to 20 hours, depending on system configuration. The five-foot-long (1.5-meter-long) ScanEagle UAV has a 10-foot (3-meter) wingspan and can operate in land and maritime environments. Its modular design allows integration of new payloads and sensors and ensures the vehicle will be able to incorporate new technology as it becomes available.
ScanEagle’s modular design further supports system upgrades, including expanded payload options; an improved, purpose-built propulsion system; a fully digital video system for improved image quality; an environment of reduced electro-magnetic interference; and an improved navigation system.
ScanEagle is launched autonomously by a catapult launcher and flies preprogrammed and operator-initiated missions. The patented SkyHook® recovery system is used for retrieval. SkyHook 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-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.
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 and 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 (AFSB).
ScanEagle sets the global standard for both turn-key ISR services and system sales for land and maritime operations. ScanEagle has completed and continues to support worldwide operations with more than 50 land deployments in more than a dozen countries. As the industry leader in maritime ISR operations, Insitu ScanEagle systems have completed and continue to support more than 40 ship-based deployments on 19 separate ship classes ranging in size from fast boats to AFSB ships. This deployed work has culminated in more than 870,000 hours of operational time and experience.
A total of 19 international customers include the military forces of Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, Spain and the United Kingdom. Civilian and commercial uses have included forest fire monitoring in Olympic National Park, a railway monitoring demonstration for BNSF Railway as part of the FAA’s Pathfinder Program, a search and rescue demonstration for the U.S. Coast Guard over the Arctic Ocean, and ice floe monitoring for oil rigs off of Alaska’s North Slope.
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.
In April of 2015, Boeing acquired 2d3 Sensing, officially making it part of Insitu. Specializing in motion imagery processing of critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data generated from aerial platforms, 2d3’s products are used in Insitu unmanned systems, including ScanEagle. Now known as Mission Systems Programs, these information processing technologies and capabilities can now be further integrated into Insitu and Boeing platforms.