Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Arlington, VA, United States (4E) – A palm-sized robotic helicopter that saved the lives of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan will soon see wider battlefield use by the U.S. Army.
The current version of this system, the “Black Hornet 2 aerial sensor” or nano-helicopter, weighs less than one ounce but can fly for up to 25 minutes at line-of-sight distances of up to 1.6 kilometers. It’s the world’s smallest combat-proven nano-drone.
Black Hornet utilizes a Lepton micro thermal camera made by FLIR Systems, Inc. (the company that makes this drone); visible spectrum cameras; advanced low-power rotor technology, and proprietary software for flight control, stabilization and communications.
FLIR said the Black Hornet helicopter is one of the lightest, stealthiest, and safest personal surveillance drones in the market, offering a highly advanced, life-saving surveillance solution for traditional military forces and special operations forces. The Black Hornet helicopter is a segment of the Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System.
The Army ordered more of the miniscule drones as part of a $2.6 million contract with FLIR. It specifically ordered the next-generation Black Hornet 3, which weighs 32 grams and features navigation capabilities for use in areas outside of GPS coverage. The helicopter has advanced image processing from earlier versions, and can fly a distance of two kilometers at more than 21 kilometers an hour. It carries a thermal microcamera.
The order marks the Army’s first for the Soldier Borne Sensors program, which aims to provide military personnel with more awareness of their surroundings using drones.
Choosing the Black Hornet drones “represents a key opportunity to provide soldiers in every U.S. Army squad a critical advantage on the modern battlefield,” said FLIR CEO James Cannon. “This contract demonstrates the strong demand for nano-drone technology offered by FLIR and opens the way for broad deployment across all branches of the military.”
The Army bought Black Hornet drones from FLIR for testing and evaluation in 2016 and 2017. It will continue to evaluate and potentially roll out more drones for all infantry units. In 2015, the Army Special Forces tested a handful of the palm-size PD-100 Black Hornet drones from Norway’s Prox Dynamics, which originally developed the drones but was later acquired by FLIR.
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