UAVs are “a mainstay,” said Ryan Hartman, senior vice presidents of Programs at Insitu, owned by Boeing. Over the next 25 years, he said, “Technology will have evolved to the point where we’ll be operating unmanned systems in the national airspace safely and responsibly.”
Insitu demonstrated the launch and recovery of a 45-pound ScanEagle UAV that launches from a catapult and can fly 24 hours on less than a gallon of fuel.
The ScanEagle has flown 800,000 hours since being introduced 10 years ago, much of that time carrying out surveillance in Iraq and Afghanistan. This month, Boeing sent U.S. Marines in Afghanistan their first Blackjack, a larger version of the ScanEagle that can carry more surveillance equipment.
Insitu has a unique business model compared with rivals. Rather than selling systems to customers, it leases them out, and it also provides the operators.
Over the next quarter century, UAVs will need to become more efficient to operate. Currently, it’s one-man-to-one-machine, meaning each aircraft requires the constant attention of one person. That ratio has to improve.
A version of the Blackjack that will let one operator control four UAVs at once. Also, teaming UAVs with pilots to fly “manned-unmanned” is a program being tested with the P-8 Poseidon and V-22 Osprey.
Reliability is what will enable us to provide capability in the civilian market and operate in the national airspace.
Lockheed has the Stalker UAV, a very lightweight UAV that an individual person can launch with a bungee cord, and which can fly eight hours on a propane fuel cell.
The Skunk Works is working on several other programs as well.
* Open-architecture, single-operating system for several different pieces of equipment
* Cyberprotection, both defensive and offensive
* Advanced materials for aircraft, including not just composite, but also new metallic structures
* Increased stealth, including plans someday for an SR-72, as hypersonic speeds could reach Mach 15 to 20.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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