UAVs have become increasingly common in everything from carrying out missile strikes against terrorists to helping map archaeological sites. They come in all sizes from jet-powered behemoths to ones so small that they can sit in your hand. On Monday, Silent Falcon UAS Technologies of Alburquerque, New Mexico rolled out the latest in the small UAV class with the unveiling of its solar-powered Silent Falcon at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) conference in Las Vegas.

Built in collaboration with Bye Aerospace, Silent Falcon is designed to be a man-portable small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) for long-duration intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. This in itself isn’t very new, but Silent Falcon is built of lightweight carbon composites and employs a solar electric propulsion system, which gives it an endurance of up to 14 hours in the sky. To give some idea of how much the solar power contributes, Silent Falcon can only fly up to six hours running on battery power at night.

The power for the craft comes from thin film photovoltaic panels built into the wings with lithium polymer batteries for storage. This allows Silent Falcon the endurance for ISR missions, yet it remains light enough at a maximum of 12.3 kilograms (27.1 lb) to be carried and hand launched, though rocket launching is also an option. This makes it suitable for both military and civilian applications.

In addition to its solar propulsion system, the 1.77 meter (5.8 ft) long Silent Falcon is modular with three sets of interchangeable wings giving it a span ranging from 2.1 meters (6.9 ft) to 5.2 meters (17 ft). It has a top speed of 112 km/h, (60 knots), an operational flying altitude from 100 feet (30.5 m) to 20,000 feet (6,096 m) and a range of 25 kilometers (15.5 mi). As a bonus, the electric motor makes Silent Falcon, for want of a better word, silent and, according to the makers, it can’t be heard beyond about 100 feet (30.5 m).

But what gives Silent Falcon a particular edge over other small UAVs is that it carries in its belly a motorized, gimbal-mounted, stowable electro-optical imaging system dubbed FalconVision. This includes a high-definition dual imager with night vision capability, a laser pointer, an onboard HD video processor and the whole thing is inertially stabilized. This allows it to send back stable, high-definition images, identify and track targets and perform geo-location and geo-tracking operations.

Currently, Silent Falcon is still in the preproduction phase, but the makers say that commercial production will begin early on 2013.

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