A miniature drone made of styrofoam help protects airbases in Afghanistan

The US Air Force has been testing the Skate, a small, miniature drone made of styrofoam that has demonstrated the ability to autonomously and quietly conduct surveillance missions in urban areas, or in areas with dense obstacles, providing constant monitoring and surveillance for security and force protection

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Designed to operate by the soldiers in the field, Skate is   simple to assemble, operate and repair. Operation is autonomous and intuitive, with the vehicle managing all flight control functions autonomously. Photo: Aurora
Designed to operate by the soldiers in the field, Skate is simple to assemble, operate and repair. Operation is autonomous and intuitive, with the vehicle managing all flight control functions autonomously. Photo: Aurora Flight Sciences

The Skate Small UAV has recently completed an evaluation with US Air Force expeditionary forces in Afghanistan, providing ‘situational awareness’ around Afghan villages close to US bases, without human presence. The Skate, developed by Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation as portable, man-portable system designed for field operation. “Skate is a force multiplier that provides the warfighter with immediate eyes-on-target and real-time situational awareness” said Douglas Szczublewski, the Air Force program manager.

A Skate system comprises two electrically-powered air vehicles made of Expanded Polypropylene (EPP) styrofoam stored folded in the carrying case, payload modules including streaming video or infrared infrared imaging sensors, batteries, an intuitive, hand-held user interface and the a sling enabling hand-launching from confined areas. A variant of the system also offers a capture hook for automated launch and recovery and charging from power sources on the ground.

In addition to autonomous missions Skate's flight can also be controlled by the operator, using the hand held monitor. Photo: Aurora
In addition to autonomous missions Skate’s flight can also be controlled by the operator, using the hand held monitor. Photo: Aurora Flight Sciences

Skate’s unique capability to autonomously manoeuvre and navigate in urban or crowded environments enables this lightweight air vehicle to deliver long endurance on quiet electric power. By using articulating motor pods Skate merges the simplicity and endurance of a fixed wing platform with the manoeuvrability and mission flexibility of a vertical take off and landing (VTOL) asset.

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Independently articulating motor pods allow the Skate UAS to rapidly transition between vertical and horizontal flight. Transferring from hovering to wingborne flight increases the endurance and range of the system to levels characteristic of a fixed wing platform and far beyond those of a traditional VTOL asset. It is also key to the drone’s manoeuvrability in confined spaces and urban environment. Photo: Aurora Flight Sciences