Unmanned Surveillance Balloon to Hit the Skies

Article excerpt

PARIS -- The next wave in unmanned aerial systems may hark back to the dawn of human flight more than a century ago.

Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd., based in Israel, which produces tactical UAVs with sophisticated navigation and control technologies, has developed an unmanned surveillance aircraft that looks like a balloon but flies like a kite.

The Skystar 300 is a small aerostat that can carry day and night sensors up to 1,000 feet in the air. When filled with helium, the 25-foot wide balloon floats up and gives operators 360-degree observation coverage. It is tethered to a long cable, which is anchored to the ground.

While the demand for lighter, faster and cheaper UAVs is increasing, there also is a need for unmanned aerial systems that work silently beneath the clouds, with long endurance and extended sensor range, says Yair Atzmon, head of the company's ground division. In addition, such systems must be both inexpensive and easy to maintain and operate to keep up with the increasing appetite for visual information at the individual soldier level.

Skystar 300 and its smaller cousin, Skystar 100, can fill that gap, he says. They offer troops at the squad level an opportunity to see "over the hill" without relying upon conventional drones that may be tasked by units conducting missions at higher echelons, he says.

The battery-operated systems are designed to be rapidly deployable by two to three persons from a vehicle or on foot. Users can manipulate the system via a laptop or a tripod-mounted ground control station. …