July 18, 2007 Unmanned air vehicles are starting to become smaller and more accessible to the scientific community, a movement that is opening doors to new paths of research and commerce worldwide. Raytheon's Cobra, for example, is a 9-foot long aircraft with a 10 foot wingspan that can be piloted by remote control or pre-programmed to take off, navigate to a series of waypoints and then land autonomously without any further human input. The Cobra recently completed a set of test flights in North Dakota, successfully trialling new systems and equipment for digital imaging and agricultural land management.
A Raytheon Cobra Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) conducted the first official unmanned aircraft flight in North Dakota on June 25. The Cobra flew approved flight profiles through military restricted airspace over Camp Grafton South, a National Guard training facility 45 miles south of Devil's Lake, N.D.
In addition to being the first unmanned aircraft to fly in North Dakota airspace, these were also the Cobras' first flights away from their home station in Tucson, Ariz. During the three-day deployment to the site, the Cobras completed nine flights and executed completely autonomous takeoffs, landings and in-flight navigation along pre-planned routes.
The flights were part of Raytheon's collaboration with the University of North Dakota, John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, the University of North Dakota School of Engineering and Mines and the North Dakota National Guard. In one of the planned missions from the Camp Grafton South airfield, a Cobra UAS carried the PrecisionAg digital imaging payload developed by the University of North Dakota Unmanned Aircraft Engineering team. The PrecisionAg payload is designed to take digital images of crops and rangeland for monitoring vegetation health for North Dakota agribusiness applications.
"With its ability to conduct completely autonomous flight profiles and its FAA experimental airworthiness certification, Cobra is positioned to be the preferred unmanned aircraft system for the science, research and engineering communities," said Don Newman, Raytheon director of Unmanned Systems. "Cobra can stay aloft for more than three hours with a 25-pound payload, providing researchers with an affordable, stable platform for an array of sophisticated electronic equipment and sensors."
Cobra is a low-cost, highly reliable unmanned aircraft designed to support Raytheon's development, integration and test of unmanned systems technologies. The aircraft has a wingspan of 10 feet and is 9-feet long. The Cobra UAS was designed by Raytheon to support the development, test and demonstration of sensor systems; networked command, control and communications systems; and unmanned aircraft system architectural concepts.
The Cobra UAS integrates advanced systems and capabilities from several Raytheon businesses, including Tucson-based Missile Systems; Intelligence and Information Systems, based in Garland, Texas; Space and Airborne Systems in El Segundo, Calif.; and McKinney, Texas-based Network Centric Systems.