1st overseas military tests for unmanned chopper in Belize
The United States Army, the Belize Defence Force (BDF) and representatives of Boeing have begun a 45-day mission in Belize - the first outside the USA - to test the unmanned helicopter, the YMQ-18A (formerly designated as the A-160 Hummingbird), fitted with a large camera and an 800-pound radar, which is able to detect manmade items, people and moving objects through vegetation.
Representatives of the team of 50 - which includes 12 Boeing personnel, radar testers and U.S. military staff - say that they are excited about the Belize tests, because it is the first time they are testing in the jungle environment, as the US has no jungles.
Although tests have reportedly been conducted over the past 7 years with the radar in at least three locations in the US - California, Utah and Georgia - the vegetation in those places is not as dense as the vegetation in Belize.
Major Armando Hernandez of the US Military and US Special Operations Command, spokesperson for the testing of the chopper and radar, says that the craft, which weighs 2,800 pounds, can fly with a weight of up to 6,500 pounds. The first time the unmanned chopper was used to successfully carry this radar was in October of 2009, he told us. It has also been used with the Black Hawk, which is a manned military helicopter, Hernandez noted.
“Once their capability is verified, the U.S. military will decide whether it will use this aircraft in the future,” says a press release from the US Embassy issued Wednesday, August 11.
The equipment was shipped via containers to Belize, with the choppers partially disassembled.
The Embassy release adds that, “Since their August 1 arrival, the testing team has assembled and ground-tested the aircraft to ensure that all systems are functioning properly before the first scheduled flight. While the engineers prepare the aircraft for its first flight, U.S. military and BDF personnel will mark certain jungle areas for the FORESTER Radar evaluation.”
Colonel Ganney Dortch, Chief of Staff of the BDF, said that should the technology be developed, it could be a good investment for Belize to make, as there are illegal activities in jungle and “a lot of areas of concern.”
Belize could have such a platform from which we could do monitoring and surveillance, said Dortch, adding that, “In 18 hours, it could fly over Belize I’d say maybe 40 to 50 times...” He said that the chopper could look at EEZ [Exclusive Economic Zone] and other areas of interest apart from border areas. “The question is if Belize would be able to afford it.”
Asked what are the risks involved, Dortch, a military pilot as well, said: “The major risk is maybe for it to crash.” He told us, however, that the US Army has identified its strategy for the flights, which includes automation for landing in the event the link with the ground control stations is lost. There are also alternate landing sites to the main airstrip.
According to Lieutenant Colonel Kent Guffy, who is in charge of the Belize mission for the US Army, they won’t fly over populated areas in Cayo; neither would they fly through bad weather. Hernandez said test flights would be limited to a 10-mile by 10-mile area of the Mountain Pine Ridge. “Safety is a number 1 concern for us,” he commented.
Currently, the army has 8 prototypes of the chopper, Guffy informed. He also said that the craft has had 39 flights up to Tuesday.
At the end of July, the foreign press reported that one of the Hummingbird planes had crashed in California. Hernandez said that while a 30-day suspension of tests is generally invoked by Boeing after a crash to investigate the cause and make rectifications, the airline company has determined that “...it wasn’t a fault of the aircraft.”
Guffy told us that the aircraft has software that is used to pre-program the flight with instructions on what it is to do in the event of a lost link with the ground command, executed from inside vans equipped with computers and antennae. The Hummingbird would fly to a pre-designated point in the sky and attempt to reestablish a communications link; if not, the software would take it to a designated landing site and the unmanned chopper would land autonomously - by itself.
“It is called unmanned because there is no pilot inside the plane,” said Guffy, explaining that the chopper does not have a cockpit.
Hernandez recounted the history of the chopper’s development: In the late 1990’s, some of the first prototypes were developed using car engines to make them fly. In 2002, the engineers kept making improvements and added a more powerful engine that uses gasoline. Through the last few years, additional innovations made the engine stronger. In 2008, it had a record of flight for that type of unmanned chopper - 18.7 hours.
The UAV is now being tested in Belize to see how well it can carry the radar and see through the jungle.
Lieutenant Colonel Steven Ortega, Commanding Officer of the Second Battalion based in Cayo, is coordinating the BDF soldiers who are participating in the mission. According to Dortch, Belizean soldiers are providing security for the test site, as well as joining the US team on patrols to provide movement on the ground while the radar and chopper—together called an unmanned aerial system (UAS)—are deployed to see if they can really see through Belizean forests.
“If it does work and the US decides it should be fielded, more will be built for operations,” Hernandez explained.
The FORESTER radar has been used successfully in Georgia, which has some forest, but not as dense as Belize’s.
“For the first time in the history of this aircraft it is being taken to another country,” he added.
It is quicker to train someone to operate a UAV than to fly a plane, said Dortch, who is himself a military pilot in Belize. It is easier to lose a piece of machinery than to lose a life, he added. An average pilot stays in the air for 8 hours, so it is important to have a craft that can stay in the air for extended hours, he also said.
Hernandez said that a lot of military innovations have been transferred toward the wellbeing of people. One example he pointed to was the Internet, which he said had been developed for military use. “Everybody uses it now,” he declared.
One UAV that the US military now uses is the Predator, which was developed by the same man who invented the multi-million-dollar Hummingbird chopper – Abe Kamer. Kamer sold his company, Frontier Systems Inc., to Boeing, which now works with the US military to develop the UAV for military use.
Boeing, on its website, details the potential uses of the UAV: reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, communication relay and battlefield supply.
Hernandez said that the US has, in aiding Haiti’s recovery from the recent earthquake, also been using surveillance technology to figure out where all the affected areas were located and to figure out where to send aid.
He also said that such technology had been used recently to help Guatemala with flood relief efforts.
As to reports that the Hummingbird now being tested in Belize had been used with dummy hellfire missiles (press reports say four can be carried on each side of the chopper), Hernandez told us that there have been dummy rounds used, not real hellfire missiles, but the test was done using objects that simulate the weight.
“Boeing did that, not US military,” to see how aircraft would react with two weighted systems, to see if it would still fly, said Hernandez.
The Hummingbird has no offensive capability, insisted Duffy and Hernandez.
The unmanned chopper is 8-feet from top to bottom and 35-feet long. As for speed, the chopper will be tested at 110 mph but can go up to 180 mph, Hernandez explained, indicating that it is slower than the Black Hawk chopper.
Dortch said that Belize’s decision to invite the US to test the chopper here could mean long-term benefits for Belize and the region on the whole, if this technology can be developed.
“Our very first test that we’ve ever flown out of country was yesterday, and we just did some basic flight tests. We flew it, flew around in circles, tested all the systems of the aircraft controls and what not, and we did some radar calibration,” Guffy said Tuesday. The chopper flew for under 4 hours in an area 10 miles from the air field, and up to an altitude of 15,000 feet, he said.
(Apart from field interviews, the story also includes content from the August 10, 2010, edition of The Adele Ramos Show.)http://www.amandala.com.bz/index.php?id=10176The Forester’s Mission In Belize
The United States government is making a huff about a report we brought you on Wednesday's broadcast concerning the testing operations of an unmanned helicopter presently being conducted at Central Farm in the Cayo District.
According to the U.S. Embassy's press officer, Kelly Mcarthy, our report that the helicopter can be equipped with the capability of carrying up to eight 100 pound missiles is inaccurate, although we got that information from the manufacturer, Boeing's website.
But to clarify their mission in Belize, today, we were introduced to the U.S. military's point man in Belize, Major Armando Hernandez who told us why their mission is about strapping on an 800 pound radar, not ordnance:…
Major Armando Hernandez, U.S. Military Spokesperson"This aircraft has never been tested by the US military for offensive capabilities. We have no plans to test this aircraft for offensive capabilities. We are currently testing this aircraft for its ability to operate in a humid environment, for its ability to carry an 800 pound radar which is what u see at the bottom of the aircraft. But in its current state there are no plans to test this for offensive capability. This is the first time this aircraft has ever been tested outside of the US. In Belize we are going to see how it functions at different altitudes, see how it functions with humidity, also the radar, we are testing a system so you have the 800 hundred pound radar underneath and we're going to see if it works. The radar is able to work under single canopy radar. In the US we don't have any jungles, but in Belize you have multiple layers, this will give us a good opportunity to see if this aircraft works."Jim McFadzean"But it wouldn't be a far fetch idea from a layman's perspective to assume that the US military might be looking at arming this type of unmanned aircraft, the fact that its not been tested before, it wouldn't be a far fetch idea to say that you all might be looking at arming it someday or testing the capability as such."Major Hernandez"Well I'm not a Boeing spokesperson, Boeing is looking for multiple uses. Boeing does not speak on behalf of the United States. The report you saw was put out by Boeing and we have done two tests. Tests are the ability to conduct resupply operations and we have tested its ability to carry this 800 pound radar."The U.S. military is here conducting the tests at the invitation of the government of Belize and working in partnership with the Belize Defense Force to carry out the tests in Belize's thick jungles and little used airspace. http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=17584