The lives of British soldiers in the Brigade Reconnaissance Force just got a little safer. Rather than having to undertake the dangerous task of checking for ambushes, investigating potential enemy positions themselves ("Go see if there are a bunch of guys with guns in that house"), they can now send this fist-sized spy 'copters to scout for danger ahead instead.
Dubbed the Black Hornet Nano Unmanned Aircraft System by its designer, Prox Dynamics of Norway, this micro UAV measures 10cm long and 2.5cm tall with a 10cm rotor span. It weighs just 16g, flies nearly silently, and is coloured to match and blend in with the grey mud buildings of Afghan villages. The Black Hornet's payload consists of a single tiny camera that delivers both full motion video and still images back to the recon soldier's hand-held terminal up to 1000m away. And while it may look like a child's toy, the Black Hornet has been ruggedised to handle the harsh, hot, and windy environments in which it operates.
It's powered by a small battery pack, which imparts a top speed of 10m/s and maximum flight time of about 25 minutes. That's plenty of time to sneak into enemy territory, capture some images, and return to base. In addition to operating under the direct control of a pilot, the Black Hornet can also be deployed autonomously using its on-board GPS receiver.
British troops have been using the Black Hornet in Afghanistan since August of 2012 and have been thoroughly impressed so far. As Major Adam Foden explained to UAS Vision:
Black Hornet is a game-changing piece of kit. Previously we would have sent soldiers forward to see if there were any enemy fighters hiding inside a set of buildings. Now we are deploying Black Hornet to look inside compounds and to clear a route through enemy-held spaces.It has worked very well and the pictures it delivers back to the monitor are really clear. And Black Hornet is so small and quiet that the locals can't see or hear it.
Sergeant Christopher Petherbridge, of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force in Afghanistan, added that the "Black Hornet is definitely adding value, especially considering the light weight nature of it. We used it to look for insurgent firing points and check out exposed areas of the ground before crossing which is a real asset. It is very easy to operate and offers amazing capability to the guys on the ground."
They've been so popular with troops that the UK Ministry of Defence has already placed a £20 million ($31 million) order for 160 units to complement the 300 or so other UAVs it currently operates in the region.