The American military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq during the first decade of the present century allowed the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) industry to flourish and this led to the introduction of many unmanned, remotely-piloted systems. The AeroVironment RQ-14 "Dragon Eye" was one product of the period, a compact, tactical reconnaissance-minded drone first flying in June of 2001. It was introduced a year later and has seen considerable service with the United States Marine Corps (USMC) as development was through the Naval Research Laboratory and the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory. Some 1,000 units were contracted for.
Outwardly, the Dragon Eye exhibits a conventional aircraft form with a centralized fuselage containing all pertinent mission equipment, a monoplane wing assembly, and vertical tail fin. The aircraft lacks horizontal tailplanes and an integrated undercarriage while its wing mainplanes are broad and straight in their design. The UAV's propulsion comes from a pair of two-bladed electric drive motors arranged ahead of the wing leading edges to either side of the fuselage. Dimensions of this aircraft include a wingspan of 3.75 feet and a length of 3 feet, allowing it to be relatively easily transported on the back of an infantryman. Its overall weight is a manageable six pounds.
The Dragon Eye system is hand-launched, not requiring any complex undercarriage-with-runway arrangement or catapulting system. Forward momentum is enhanced by use of a bungee-style flexible cord which helps to add initial velocity. Once in the air and under its own power, the UAV utilizes a operator-programmed, waypoint-based navigation system through an integrated Global Positioning System (GPS) and Inertial Navigation System (INS). The mission endurance window is approximately one hour. The UAV is tied to a Ground Control System (GCS) consisting of a heavy-duty laptop providing real-time color / high reolution InfraRed (IR) video imaging to the ground operator from the Dragon Eye unit. Transmission ranges (line-of-sight) reach out to 6 miles and the UAV holds an operational range out to 3 miles and a service ceiling up to 500 feet at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. Recovery is simply by way of having the Dragon Eye unit land a relatively smooth surface - its frame is purposely designed to break apart and be put back together in short order. Should the unit suffer more catastrophic damage, its major components can easily by replaced from parts pulled from another Dragon Eye kit.
The Dragon Eye UAV continues to serve USMC units today (2015). Its transportability and ease-of-use with reliable function have made it an excellent addition to the Marine warfighter's growing high-tech arsenal. Additionally, its run-silent operation generally results in enemy forces unaware of its position overhead - a good alternative to the larger, higher-cost UAV systems currently available.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
Serving Special Forces / Special Operations elements and missions.
Aircraft inherently designed (or later developed) with an unmanned capability to cover a variety of over-battlefield roles.
3.0 ft (0.90 m)
3.6 ft (1.10 m)
7 lb (3 kg)
7 lb (3 kg)
+0 lb (+0 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base AeroVironment RQ-14 Dragon Eye production variant)
1 x Single-use battery supplying power to 2 x Two-bladed electric motors.
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