Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)

The U.S. military began experimenting with unmanned aircraft as early as World War I. By World War II, unmanned craft could be controlled by radio signals, usually from another aircraft. Vehicles that could return from a mission and be recovered appeared in the late 1950s. Today, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) perform a wide range of missions and are used by all four branches of the military.

This exhibit showcases six modern military UAVs that represent a variety of missions and technologies. They range from large vehicles that can carry offensive weapons to a miniature system whose components are light and compact enough to be carried in a Marine’s backpack.

This exhibit is made possible through the generosity of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.


Lockheed Martin/Boeing RQ-3A DarkStar in Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Lockheed Martin/Boeing RQ-3A DarkStar
Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) developed the stealthy, low-observable DarkStar to provide sustained reconnaissance information from anywhere within enemy territory, day or night, in all types of weather. Developed concurrently with the nonstealthy RQ-4A Global Hawk, DarkStar could provide near real-time target data and imagery by way of satellite links to its mobile ground station.

The first DarkStar prototype flew successfully in March 1996 but crashed during its second flight a month later. More than two years passed before a second prototype took to the air and performed an autonomous takeoff, flight plan, and landing. It made five flights before the program was canceled in January 1999. The DarkStar displayed here was built before the program ended but never performed a flight test. When the Museum acquired it, the inlet and the exhaust had been sealed due to the classified nature of the design.

Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force

More information: Lockheed Martin/Boeing RQ-3A DarkStar

AeroVironment RQ-14A Dragon Eye in Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)

AeroVironment RQ-14A Dragon Eye
Dragon Eye is a fully autonomous, hand- or bungee-launched mini-UAV designed to provide tactical reconnaissance and surveillance information to field commanders. The aircraft's extremely quiet electric motor and small wingspan make it difficult to detect in flight. Its sensors can record real-time, high-resolution color or infrared images. A Dragon Eye system consists of three of the UAVs and their ground control equipment, all of which are light and compact enough to be carried in a Marine's backpack.

The Naval Research Laboratory and the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory designed and built the Dragon Eye in 2001. It was first used operationally during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 for reconnaissance and battle damage assessment. The Third Marine Division flew this Dragon Eye in Afghanistan in 2005. They used it for surveillance in the Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, the city of Jalalabad, and the Korengal Valley.

Courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps

More information: AeroVironment RQ-14A Dragon Eye

RQ-2A Pioneer in the Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)

Pioneer UAV RQ-2A Pioneer
The RQ-2A provides field commanders with real-time reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, and battle damage information. Ground controllers pilot the aircraft over its 185-kilometer (115-mile) range. The RQ-2A can be recovered by flying into a large net aboard a ship or by using a tail hook and arresting wire on land. Its small size and composite materials make the RQ-2A difficult to detect visually and on radar.

U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine units began using RQ-2As in the late 1980s. This one operated from the battleship Wisconsin during the 1991 Gulf War. While it was assessing damage from naval gunfire to targets on Faylaka Island near Kuwait City, several Iraqi soldiers signaled their intention to surrender to the aircraft during a low pass — the first time enemy soldiers had ever surrendered to an unmanned aerial vehicle. They were later captured by U.S. ground troops.

Courtesy of the U.S. Navy

More information: Pioneer UAV RQ-2A Pioneer

MQ-1L Predator A in the Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles exhibition

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. MQ-1L Predator A
The Predator can provide near real-time reconnaissance using a satellite data link system and perform attack missions as well. It served over the Balkans and Afghanistan and during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. The most historic use of the Predator/Hellfire missile combination occurred when CIA ground forces directed attacks against al Qaeda forces during the opening months of the war on terrorism.

This U.S. Air Force Predator was one of the first three UAVs to fly operational missions over Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It went on to fly 196 combat missions in Afghanistan. It was also the first Predator to test fire the Hellfire-C missile, and the first UAV to fire Hellfire-C missiles in combat. With modifications to its wing length, propeller, avionics, and engine cooling system, it has served as the prototype for subsequent MQ-IL aircraft.

Courtesy of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.

More information: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. MQ-1L Predator A

AAI Corporation RQ-7A Shadow 200 in Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)

AAI Corporation RQ-7A Shadow 200
The RQ-7A provides ground commanders the ability to "see first, understand first, and act first — decisively." The twin-boom pusher aircraft performs day or night reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, and bomb damage assessment. It has nonretractable landing gear for conventional takeoff and landing, but it can also be launched by catapult and use a tail hook and arresting cables for a shorter landing.

A Shadow 200 system consists of four RQ-7As and two ground control stations, which transmit tactical reconnaissance imagery and telemetry data in near real time directly to combat command centers. The RQ-7A entered service with the U.S. Army in 2002 and flew its first mission over Baghdad in April 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Screamin' Demon flew with the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division, Stryker Brigade Combat Team #2, and the 82nd Airborne Division. Its last combat flight in Iraq took place in 2005. It flew 124 missions totaling nearly 500 flight hours.

Courtesy of AAI Corporation

More information: AAI Corporation RQ-7A Shadow 200

Boeing X-45A Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS)

Boeing X-45A Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS)
First flown in 2002, the X-45A was the first modern UAV designed specifically for combat strike missions. The stealthy, swept-wing jet has fully retractable landing gear and a composite, fiber-reinforced epoxy skin. Its fuselage houses two internal weapons bays. The X-45 project was first managed by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, but in 2003 the Air Force and Navy consolidated the X-45 and X-47 programs under the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System Office.

This X-45A accomplished several firsts during testing. Among them: the first autonomous flight of a high-performance, combat-capable UAV; the first weapons release from an autonomous UAV; and, with Air Vehicle #2, the first autonomous multi-vehicle coordinated flight. Only two X-45A scaled-down technology demonstrators were built. Flight tests successfully concluded in 2005.

Courtesy of the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System Office

More information: Boeing X-45A Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS)