August 24, 2006
Mini Aircraft Touted for Military Work
CUSSETA, Ga. -- Drifting in the wind, it may appear to be a harmless seagull - but the small unmanned aircraft is packed with electronics for intelligence and reconnaissance missions.
Developers say the ultra-light CyberBug is simple to operate, and that any child who has ever played a video game could learn to fly it in a few hours. But at $30,000, it's not priced to sell at toy stores.The CyberBug represents a class of unmanned aircraft finding growing acceptance with police and military officials. Others are in use by the Army in trouble spots like Afghanistan. Some of the best-known unmanned aircraft are the Predator and the Global Hawk.
On Wednesday, CyberDefense Systems demonstrated one of its CyberBugs in conjunction with an announcement by a Georgia firm, National Security Associates, that it will build a 700-acre police and military training site near Fort Benning, home of the Army's Infantry, Airborne and Ranger schools.
Among the 50 spectators was Muscogee County Sheriff Ralph Johnson.
"If it locates a person with Alzheimer's or missing children, or if you're protecting the life of a law-enforcement officer, then it's well worth the money," Johnson said. "I see a lot of potential for it."
Billy Robinson, CyberDefense's CEO, said the Florida-based defense company has "placed" 12 of the CyberBug systems with clients, including the U.S. Forest Service, a Navy school and an unnamed federal intelligence agency.
The company recently used one to locate mock victims in a swamp near Naples, Fla., during an Air Force exercise, Robinson said, noting that they can loiter over a target and relay video until rescuers arrive.
The quiet propeller-driven craft can remain aloft for about an hour, transmitting wireless videos of the ground. The pilot flies the aircraft using a controller and can monitor the images on a laptop computer from a distance of up to about 7.5 miles.
The model flown Wednesday had a five-foot, hang-glider wing of white rip-stop nylon attached to a three-foot-long gray fuselage, with the propeller and electric motors in front and the camera and other electronics toward the rear. During the demonstration, the CyberBug crisscrossed the sky at an elevation of 350 to 400 feet.
On the Net:
National Security Associates: http://www.teamnsa.com/
Cyber Defense Systems: http://www.cyberdefensesystems.com/