June 6, 2005 – ScanEagle, a long-endurance fully autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has surpassed 3,000 combat flight hours during operations in Iraq in just ten months. The low-cost UAV has proven to be one of the military's most effective tools for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) in Iraqi. Since being deployed by the First Marine Expeditionary Force in August 2004, ScanEagle has accumulated flight hours at an increasingly high rate due to the need for its unmatched capabilities. "The Marines depend on ScanEagle daily to provide critical real-time imagery tactical commanders can use to develop a clearer picture of the battlefield," said Peggy Holly, Boeing ScanEagle program manager. "Reaching 3,000 combat flight hours in such a short time is a testament to ScanEagle's operational value."
ScanEagle, which is four feet long with a 10-foot wingspan, carries either an electro-optical or an infrared camera. Both are inertially stabilized. The gimbaled camera allows the operator to easily track both stationary and moving targets. In Iraq that has included enemy combatants, vehicles, roads, buildings and other hot spots. Capable of flying above 16,000 feet, the UAV normally provides persistent low-altitude reconnaissance.
For a vehicle of its size, ScanEagle's endurance/payload combination is unmatched. The ScanEagle "A-15" -- the current model -- can remain on station for more than 15 hours. It also has demonstrated the ability to operate in a harsh weather environments, including high winds and heavy rains, conditions that can keep other UAVs on the ground.
Due to its unique launch and recovery systems, ScanEagle takeoffs and landings are unaffected by terrain and other conditions such as crosswinds. It is launched autonomously via a pneumatic wedge catapult launcher and flies pre-programmed or operator-initiated missions. A "Skyhook" system is used for retrieval, with the UAV catching a rope hanging from a 50-foot high pole. The patented system makes ScanEagle runway independent with a small footprint for launch and recovery operations.
ScanEagle, which made its first flight in 2002, recently participated in the Joint Forces Command Forward Look exercises, which began in December 2003 and ended in June 2004. The goal was to improve interoperability and increase data fusion among multiple UAVs in operational scenarios. As part of Forward Look, ScanEagle was tasked with providing ISR coverage and time-sensitive targeting to a broad network that included UAVs, ground stations, ships at sea, command centers and other airborne assets. ScanEagle received rave reviews for its performance during the exercises.
In April 2004, ScanEagle completed a historic autonomous flight following its launch from a ship. After taking off from a 58-foot fishing boat, the UAV did area surveillance over Puget Sound, Wash., waters before landing autonomously back aboard the boat. The autonomous launch and recovery is believed to be a first for fixed-wing UAVs.
In August 2003, ScanEagle “A” – the first vehicle in the ScanEagle family – demonstrated its long-endurance capability when it completed a 15.2-hour flight at the Boeing Boardman test range. The flight confirmed ScanEagle is capable of the long-endurance necessary to complete an array of missions including ISR and communication. The flight was also significant in that it was the first time the test team put two UAVs in the air simultaneously.
In July 2003 ScanEagle made three flights at Webster Field, Md., as part of the yearly Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International symposium. In January ScanEagle participated in the U.S. Navy’s Giant Shadow exercise in the Bahamas. During five flights ScanEagle demonstrated the ability to serve as a multi-path data link similar to a satellite, while it simultaneously provided real-time video to exercise participants.
Boeing and The Insitu Group signed a 15-month agreement in February 2002 to develop and build the prototype ScanEagle UAV. In July 2003, the two companies signed a long-term contract that allows them to move into production, while at the same time continue research and development efforts.
Boeing received a contract from the U.S. Marine Corps in July 2004 to provide two ScanEagle "mobile deployment units". In April 2005, the U.S. Navy signed a $14.5 million contract with Boeing to provide ISR coverage during Naval Expeditionary Strike Group missions and security for oil platforms in the Persian Gulf.