This week, John Brennan, Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, went on the record for the first time ever, admitting that targeted drone killing is official U.S. policy. It wasn’t surprising news. These unmanned, robotic aerial vehicles have been used many times to strike militants in Pakistan and Yemen. Because they’re small and operated remotely, they reduce the cost and risk of warfare.
One of the latest drones in development is the Flexrotor, which uses an oversized propellor to take off vertically. Then, when it gets to a certain altitude, it deploys a tail and flies like an airplane. The Flexrotor isn’t ready for prime time, but the company developing it, Aerovel, just received a contract for the flight control system.
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The Flexrotor is different from tilt-rotor planes, such as the V-22 Osprey, which uses two turboprop engines that can tilt from a vertical to horizontal position.
Besides being smaller, the drone can stay in the air longer, providing better surveillance at speeds of about 60 miles per hour. The oversized propeller also makes it quieter than other unmanned aerial vehicles such as the Predator.
Another piece of the program is designing a landing pad that the drone can use without human assistance. With current drone models, soldiers sometimes have to retrieve them, and that can expose them to enemy fire. A drone that can operate without humans for extended periods mitigates that danger, so Aerovel is designing a landing pad that can also double as a maintenance bay. The Flexrotor program is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research.