DUGWAY -- The Army showed off some new toys Wednesday. They looked like--and essentially were--toy airplanes, but the new effort at Dugway Proving Ground is for a very serious purpose, with lives at stake on the battlefield.
The drones launch by hand and with mechanical ramps. Little ones, the size of paper airplanes, carry tiny cameras; bigger planes carry Hellfire missiles. The medium-size airplanes you could put in your carry-on luggage.
None have pilots; all are remotely controlled by soldiers with handheld video gear.
"What we have seen is when you look at the youth of today, they're already so familiar with video games that transitioning to these types of things is just right up their alley. So, it just works great," says Timothy Owings, deputy project manager for the Army's Unmanned Aircraft Systems program.
They save lives by giving soldiers a peek over the next hill. They zero-in on the enemy by intercepting cell phone calls and spotting terrorists on foot.
"Anytime you can send an unmanned system out in front and have it be the eyes and ears of that ground commander who is trying to make an engagement decision, this helps them," says Brig. Gen. Tim Crosby, executive officer with Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
The Army is creating a new center in Utah to consolidate unmanned aircraft testing. They'll take orders from troops in the field.
"So, they communicate back to us what they need. We work it rapidly, test it here, fly it here, and then get it back to them as soon as possible," explains Col. Gregory Gonzales, project manager for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
"It typically is about an 18-month cycle. We think we'll take that down to 4 or 5 months with the creation of this facility," Owings says.
Some of the planes are designed for rough terrain--and laughable landings. The aircraft is designed to relieve the stresses of landing through multiple impacts and disassembling itself. It is then easily reassembled and ready for flight in one minute or less.
The new center is also bringing about 250 jobs to Dugway.