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'Soon soldiers will have 3 tiny choppers in their pocket'

Norwegian 'Black Hornet' shown off outdoors

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Top Norwegian microcopter boffins say they have now successfully tested the fagpacket-sized PD-100 Black Hornet vidcam whirlybird - outdoors. The firm has also released video of the tiny aircraft in indoor flight tests:

The PD-100 isn't the same as your common-or-garden cheapo remote control toy copter, great as those are. As owners will know, these little machines don't offer full control of the sort a real chopper does: there's no real option to hover in one place, speed up, decelerate etc. Remote-control copters which can fly like a real full-size one are comparatively large, complex and expensive - indeed, some of them are full size.

But the main special sauce of Prox Dynamics, the Norgie firm behind the PD-100, is very tiny control servos - "the smallest and lightest in the world, weighing less than 0.5 grams". Thus a PD-100 is even smaller than a typical toy battery-copter, but has full control and is able to hover and to achieve airspeeds approaching 20mph.

The latest prototype, the Hornet-3a, was flown outdoors in light winds earlier this month. The test was reported this morning by Flight International. According to a Prox Dynamics statement:

The advanced flight controls system makes the Hornet-3a very easy to fly. Being able to operate the 15 grams UAV outdoors in wind and gust is considered a vital part of its operational capabilities. It is also one of the most challenging tasks for the flight controls and autopilot system. A major milestone was therefore reached on April 7th when the Hornet-3a made its first flights outdoors.

With the Norwegian snow still present the Hornet-3a was flown in dry conditions with light variable wind up to 2 m/s. The aircraft showed no adverse controllability issues either in hover or during high speed passes. Over distance the Hornet-3a was able to maintain an average horizontal speed of 7 m/s with a maximum airspeed of 8 m/s. The test also confirmed some of the low signature capabilities of the system. Outside a distance of approximately three meters the sound from the helicopter was completely drowned by the ambient noise.

The full PD-100 microcopter, just over 10cm long, would easily fit in a flat pocket-sized case. It will be controlled from a handheld gadget offering video from the camera, simple manual controls, and "route following" using GPS, though this wouldn't work inside buildings. The little aircraft will even offer auto-hovering hands off, with the ability to resist gusts of wind to some degree; and "deployment of special payload" (presumably very small). Flight reports that endurance on a battery charge is expected to be 30min.

The idea is that soldiers might carry a few Black Hornets in a pocket. If they fancied a look inside a building, over a hill or crest, down a tunnel or something, they'd simply launch an almost-silent palmtop microcopter for a recce. Should the tiny chopper come to grief due to flat batteries, a prang or perhaps a rolled-up newspaper, no matter - several cheap replacements could easily be carried. The standard package will come with three aircraft, a pocket controller and a charger.

Black Hornet isn't quite the smallest microvidcopter design around - nor the stealthiest - but it seems to be much the nearest to reaching service.

"First delivery of an operational system is expected by the end of next year," according to Prox Dynamics. ®

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