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Silent Falcon: Sun-Powered Eye-in-the-Sky

Silent Falcon UAS Technologies' CEO discusses the development of his firm's solar-powered drone, its technology and its mission. Photo: Six-bladed prop keeps Silent Falcon surveillance system aloft up to 8 hours.

Whether we like it or not, robotic drone aircraft are about to become a part of every day life in the 21st century. From toys costing a few hundred dollars and controlled by smart phone apps to multi-million dollar weapons of war, unmanned fixed wing and rotary wing flying machines are proliferating: the latest development being the creation of 'disposable' drones that are fabricated using 3D printing technology.

For the moment in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is limiting drone flights to just six states, each with a different topography and potential mission profiles. These flight restrictions are likely to be lifted sometime around 2016, so in the interim, companies like Silent Falcon UAS Technologies, a late 2013 spin-off of Bye Aerospace, are actively seeking clients and applications elsewhere in the world.

Based in Albuquergue, New Mexico, the company has developed a fixed wing, all-electric, solar-powered UAS, the acronym for Unmanned Aerial System, as opposed to UAV, unmanned aerial vehicle. As company CEO John W. Brown notes, the company has done more than just develop the 13-feet wingspan aircraft. They've also developed the surveillance packages that accompany it. Capable of deploying on daylight missions lasting up to 6-8 hours, the Silent Falcon can live-stream video and other data back to ground controllers. Launched from a catapult that incorporates its own carrying case, it lands using a ballistic parachute.

At an estimated cost of $250,000, the system isn't cheap, but in terms of its operational capabilities, it's a bargain, flying missions like pipeline inspection, agriculture and forestry data collection, disaster response support like the tragic mudslide in Washington State. Comparable manned fixed and rotary aircraft operations cost magnitudes more just in fuel. Designed to fly relatively slow, it can be programmed to perform grid pattern searches, fly waypoint-to-waypoint, or loiter above a fixed position. Its operational range is limited only by its need to transmit certain types of data like live video by line-of-sight.

The 36-minute interview with CEO John Brown is divided into two roughly equal segments. A third segment is a short walking tour through the company's offices to see one of the aircraft and some of its sub-systems.

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Times Article Viewed: 6442
Originally published: 01 Apr 2014

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