The era of remotely controlled aircrafts started in the beginning of the 20th century. Drone refers to unmanned aerial vehicles (abbreviated as UAV) or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), which are used in many different areas starting from military aviation and even agriculture.
Raminta Laimė Raudytė
Launching of the first unmanned aircraft RAE 1921 Target in 1922 opened a new page in the history of aviation. However, modern unmanned aircrafts started with the air balloon that was launched from the ship Vulcano on 22 August 1849 during the attack of Austria against Venice. The first experiments with unmanned aircrafts were conducted during the first years of WW1, and the year 1916 marks the start of these experiments..
Later, the aircrafts, also called watchful eyes, were being developed rapidly and used for air defence trainings. On 3 September 1924, the first radio-controlled unmanned aircraft British RAE 1921 Target 1921 was successfully launched, and the flight took 39 minutes. For scientific purposes, unmanned aircraft Northrop P-61 Black Widow was launched in the April of 1946. During the flight, meteorological data were collected. During the WW2, use of radio-controlled devices for military actions increased, and today the largest squadrons of unmanned aircrafts are owned by the countries that have the largest military weaponry in the world – USA, Israel, and the United Kingdom.
This rapid history of drones shows that modern defence systems are becoming more and more dependent on autonomous aircrafts. However, drones are used not only for defence purposes. During the American spying scandal when data on spying over ordinary people and politicians were published, information about deadly drone attacks associated with U.S. National Security Agency was revealed.
Microdrones in police forces
Quadcopters with the shape resembling a spider is among the most popular types of drones. Using microdrones by police forces becomes more and more popular. Md4-1000 used by German police officers may be controlled remotely or fly independently. Depending on whether the drone carries load or not, battery level, and environmental conditions, aircraft can stay in the air up to 88 minutes. The aircraft rises vertically, and operation of the very device is rather simple: AAHRS system allows the pilots to quickly learn how to operate the aircraft. Operation of four engines cause little noise. The aircraft uses GPS Waypoint navigation system, and GIS software CARTOUAV. The aircraft that is capable of staying in the air for almost one hour and a half has resistant carbon fiber housing. These devices use two batteries 2.2V, 6S2P 12.2Ah or 6S3P 18.3Ah LiPo, has an integrated photo camera Sony Nex7. Maximum take-off weight is 5500 g. The drone tolerates temperatures from -20 to +50 C, and can rise up to 1000 m.
Drones are also used by officers on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean: police officers at the Mexico – United States border use unmanned aircrafts for tracking illegal immigrants, narcodealers or suspect terrorists. During Sochi Olympic Games, drones were used for monitoring the environment 24 hours per day.
Assistance in maintaining public order
The first remotely-controlled police helicopter in the United Kingdom was launched in May 2007. The functions of this drone-spy used by Merseyside police involved monitoring of traffic conditions and even fire prevention operations. CCTV cameras are used for recording violations of public order. Heat sensors allow recording the breaches based on heat the body emits. This significantly facilitates the work for officers. In October 2011, the drone crashed into the river of Mersey causing losses of 54 thousand LTL. Aircrafts of this type are used by foreign patrols during mass protests. Spy-drone has four screws that are 37 cm long. Drone is lifted vertically, and the camera is operated remotely. Weight of the device is 900 g, and it is 70 cm in size. The aircraft can stay in air for a half an hour; and noise generated in the height of 3 m is less than 65 dB.
Drones in intelligence service
In case of traditional missile attack, physical location of a target is clear from geographical perspective. However, drones used in military are hanging around and monitors the target, which most often is a person. Use of drones significantly increased after U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. After the events of 11 September, when troops entered the territory of the Middle East, the squadron of drones used by the United States increased from 54 to more than 4000, and every year the number of unmanned aircrafts to be purchased is growing in the plans of the Department of Defence.
Technology that has been rapidly developing from the 1950s involves integration of various additional systems, such as photo cameras, video recorders, sensors, communication devices, and other devices into drones. Currently, coastal defence in the USA is ensured by drones-ships, and the number of aircraft operation specialists has been increasing during the last few years. One of the goals of modern military service is to improve and use drones in the wide range of areas.
In 2013, U.S Navy completed the advanced tests with unmanned aircraft X-47B UCAS-D. During the trials that took place in July, U.S. Navy aircraft X-47B has first landed on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H. W .Bush, and successful launching operations were performed. Unlike older models of unmanned aircraft such as the Predator and Reaper, X-47B is significantly autonomous. Completion of X-47B unmanned aircraft testing programme is planned in September 2014. U.S. Navy is planning to use this aircraft both for intelligence and attack missions. Unmanned aircraft are planned to be included into weaponry in 2019. One of the most advanced drones used by U.S. for military and intelligence purposes Global Hawk can fly around a half of the globe without stopping. Beside large unmanned aircrafts, micro drones or the small aircrafts The MAV (Micro Air Vehicle) Ornithopters that were manufactured in Dayton, Ohio (USA), the so-called small deadly drones, are intended for improving utilization of the small spy-drones in the U.S. Military..
China started developing drone technology in the middle of the last century, and today it has more than 50 different types of them. In autumn, a 20-min pilot flight of the drone Sharp Sword took place in the city of Chengdu. This aircraft with 14 metres long wings will carry out military missions in the future. In the International Aviation and Aeronautics Exhibition in the Zhuhai city, China demonstrated the Chinese drone called Wing Loong. It was designed based on the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper, and represent the most advanced technology of this type in China.
Variety of drones
Drones are getting more popular in civil safety for fire protection tasks, monitoring of territories and weather, including tornado tracking and hurricane hunting. 3D maps, environmental and animal protection, and agriculture – these are only few areas where drones are used.
For civil purposes, an unmanned aircraft Ababil designed this year in Iran and operated through an integrated computer is used. The drone can make photos and video records of everything it is flying above, and transfer the information. According to the project manager Mostafa Shojaei, Ababil will carry out geophysical research, help predict weather, and generate topographic maps. In Japan, remotely controlled helicopters are used in agriculture to spray herbicides or fertilizers over cultivated fields. In the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, a robot that assembles itself and lifts itself up in the air was demonstrated; CIA robots can destroy themselves. After hurricane Gustav hit New Orleans (Louisiana, USA) in the end of summer of 2008, search, rescue and damage assessment tasks were performed by flying drones. And in Belgium, unmanned cameras GoPro were used for monitoring copying students.
Drones offered for leisure time
Social network users are offered MeCam mini technology that allows taking selfies. Device that is launched from a palm allows sharing the pictures or video records on the social networks. MeCam does not require any additional equipment, it is controlled by voice. This technology allows making 720 HD video records, and 5.0-megapixel photos. LED infrared technology allows capturing images both in the daytime and at night. The device weighting as little as 100 g is portable and can be attached to clothes. Visual material is transferred to a computer using USB connection.
DARPA NAV (Nano Air Vehicle) program that was started in 2005 is one of programs in USA intended to develop small drones. The appearance of these micro drones was inspired by biological diversity: the small aircrafts resemble birds. The costs of design and development of the device that were carried out during the first stage of development of autonomous robots-birds was 1.7 million USD. Drones that were 7.6 cm long were first tested in 2008, and later the length was increased to 15 cm. The weight of the drone is 19 grams, and wings are 16 cm long. The micro-machine can move at the speed of 18 km/h, and fly both vertically and horizontally. The target is monitored by the attached micro camera. In 2011, The Times included drone into top 50 of inventions of the year.
Tiriba is a part of small electrically controlled unmanned aircraft system with four network processors connected to the main system blocks. Complex embedded system performs monitoring of agricultural activities from the air, and it may also ensure safety in small territories. A drone that is using complex avionic system and weights 3 kg can stay in the air from 40 min. up to 1 hour and 30 min, and carry loads of up to 700 g. The drone lands with the help of a parachute. ProLICES is used in the SARVANT project. The aim of this project is designing an unmanned aircraft that can stay in the air for long periods of time, a SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) that can fly. Contrary to Tiriba, SARVANT is more complex.
Unmanned aircrafts in space
Unmanned aircrafts flying in space is a picture from the near future. Solara 50 that were manufactured by the American company are intended for long-term flights in stratosphere. The capacity of the device that is operating in the height of 20 km when performing network broadcasting tasks can reach up to 60 kilometres. Solara 50 can stay in the air for up to 5 years using solar energy solely: it contains 3000 solar photocells, and during night time it uses lithium batteries. The weight of the aircraft is under 180 kg, and it is capable of carrying loads of up to 32 kg. The company is planning to manufacture Solara 60 that would be capable of carrying twice the load specified.
Drones in the sky of Lithuania
In Lithuania, flying drones are also used to support police work. One of them was purchased by our police forces in 2012 for 100 thousand LTL, and in 2017, unmanned aircrafts will support the defence system of Lithuania. The project of Alliance Ground Surveilance System involving 14 states will integrate unmanned aircrafts to be used for the purposes of intelligence service, and provide real-time data about the target location at any weather conditions. The purpose of the aircrafts used for the project is ensuring general safety, crisis management and collective defence. The price of the project reaches 4.1 billion LTL. Currently, the aircraft models designed by the lieutenants of the Lithuanian Military Academy are successfully used in various military trainings of the Lithuanian Armed Forces: it gathers information about the territory quickly and invisibly.
On 20-21 August of the last year, qualification testing of remotely controlled reusable thermal air targets was performed in the Gaiziunai Training Area (Rukla) of the Great Lithuanian Hetman Jonušas Radvila Training Regiment of Lithuanian Armed Forces intended for practicing shooting to air targets by missile air defence systems Stinger and RBS-70.
Future of drones in military
The U.S. budget for defence for the year 2014 reaches more than 1395 billion LTL (552 billion USD), and a significant share of this budget will be used for development of high cyber-techs, and funding of unmanned aircraft operations. One of the latest achievements is the Global Hawk drone stored at the Grand Forks (North Dakota). This military aircraft that can perform spying tasks can fly around a half of the globe without stopping. This means that the drone can easily accomplish missions of looking for chemical weapon in Syria, or nuclear weapons in North Korea from the air above the territories of these countries. The drone has wings that are 39.9 m long, it is 5 m high, 15 m long, and a flight can take more than 30 hours. Maximum height of flying is 19 km, and the load reaches 1360 kg.
Google Loon – internet available everywhere
New Zealand has started pilot tests with the Project Loon. The Project Google Loon balloons are launched to stratosphere and move around the globe with the help of wind. Users connect to the balloons flying in the height of 20 km through special internet antennas. The signal is transmitted from one balloon to another and travels back to the globe through internet network.
Drones delivering small parcels
Eventually, home delivery function will be performed by drones instead of couriers. The company Amazon does not reject the plans to improve the home delivery robot-drone that delivers parcels in less than half an hour, however U.S. legal regulations in this respect are rather strict. So far, the use of drones for civil purposes is considered illegal in the country. The company was therefore forced to shoot promotional clips outside the United States. The limitations are expected to be changed in 2015 in favour of the manufacturers. More than 80 percent of goods sold by Amazon weight up to 2.3 kg.
Dubai government also plans to use drones in 2015 for delivery of official documents. For this purpose, small drones called quadcopters would be used. Beside documents, they could carry pharmaceuticals. Pilot tests in United Arab Emirates started in February of 2014. The company Burrito Bomber operating in Mexico is developing the services of food ordering and delivery services provided by unmanned devices which identifies the location based on the data received from a smartphone.
Unmanned observers of the environment get significant attention from politicians. In the discussion on drones and human rights held by European Parliament’s Human Rights and Safety sub-committees in the spring of 2013, parliamentarians expressed their concern on the controversial policy of targeted killings, and called for wide-ranging discussions on the legal aspects of using unmanned aircrafts and development of global standards. Irresponsible prevalence and use of technology might weaken the rule of law.
According to the Director of the Fondation pour la recherche stratégique in Paris Cammille Grand, U.S. has arranged over 350 target attacks in Pakistan and over 50 in Yemen, – the countries that are not considered war zones. Use of killer drones in foreign countries during the presidency of Barack Obama has triggered global debates. According to the data of U.S. Bureau of Investigative Journalism, since 2004, drones have killed over 3000 people in Pakistan. In the February of this year, the President of the United States promised to be more open with Americans and the Congress as regards use of drones, and tell more about drone wars.
Below are the characteristics of Drones
The article prepared as a part of the project “Encouraging local and international scientific cooperation, and competence development” funded by the European Social Fund and the Ministry of Education and Science.