Feeds

Secret US robo whispercopters head to 'undisclosed location'

Somewhere with lots of trees, apparently

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

The US Special Operations Command - SOCOM, America's secret military elite - is to double its fleet of robot whispercopters in coming years, according to reports.

It has also been revealed that eight of the high tech droid kill-choppers will soon go operational as surveillance craft at "an undisclosed location" overseas.

The A160T armed variant

Black helicopter, yes. Men in black not required.

The news comes from Flight International, reporting on an interview with Major Scott Beall of SOCOM. Major Beall is the secret supertroopers' programme manager for the Boeing A160T unmanned helicopter.

The A160T, as regular Reg readers will recall, is remarkable not so much for being unmanned - there were already other robotic helicopters on offer. Rather, the A160T stands out for its unusual variable-speed rotor tech.

Normal choppers spin their blades at a fixed rate, which simplifies engineering but limits performance. Not so the A160T, which can whirl its rotors fast in the hover but bring revs down in the cruise. Boeing say that this lets it hover out of ground effect* at impressive altitudes - as much as 20,000 feet above sea level, perhaps - and gives it excellent endurance. The A160T is also supposed to be substantially quieter than a normal helicopter.

According to Beall, three of SOCOM's existing A160Ts will deploy next year to "an undisclosed location", there to fly operational missions carrying the FORESTER foliage-penetrating radar. The undisclosed location, then, is one where enemies of America need to be tracked through woods, jungle or similar. The you-never-saw-us-we-aren't-even-here mob are known to be receiving as many as ten A160Ts already on an "extended demonstration" deal: Flight says that they have confirmed they'll acquire 20 more during the years 2012-2017.

In addition to carrying the FORESTER radar and perhaps the ARGUS-IS multiplex spyeye system, some A160Ts will be armed as strike platforms. Others may be used for resupply missions: the little droidcopters can carry an underslung load of over a tonne, reportedly.

Flight says that Major Beall sees the A160T serving in the mainstream US forces as well as in SOCOM. It might compete with the more ordinary military robocopter from Grumman, the Fire Scout: it might also sniff out roadside bombs, or haul battlefield supplies for the US Marines.

There are no routine plans yet for the droid whirlybird to carry people, though it has been suggested that it might evacuate wounded SOCOM operatives or shot-down airmen in emergencies. ®

*At altitude, as in the highlands of Afghanistan, it's common for a helicopter not to be able to achieve a hover until it has "ground effect" from being very close to the surface. Flying along through the air requires significantly less power than hovering.

Remote control for virtualized desktops

More from The Register

next story
Antarctic ice THICKER than first feared – penguin-bot boffins
Robo-sub scans freezing waters, rocks warming models
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Your PHONE is slowly KILLING YOU
Doctors find new Digitillnesses - 'text neck' and 'telepressure'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
prev story

Whitepapers

Go beyond APM with real-time IT operations analytics
How IT operations teams can harness the wealth of wire data already flowing through their environment for real-time operational intelligence.
10 threats to successful enterprise endpoint backup
10 threats to a successful backup including issues with BYOD, slow backups and ineffective security.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Website security in corporate America
Find out how you rank among other IT managers testing your website's vulnerabilities.