So after our foray out to Edwards AFB, the Boeing pre-Farnborough media tour continued onto Portland, Oregon, where we visited Insitu. Technically, they’re in Hood River… but close enough.
Insitu is a wholly-owned Boeing subsidiary that builds the ScanEagle, NightEagle and Integator drones. They started off as a tiny operation consisting of a couple of dozen folks, but then 9/11 and Iraq happened… The company grew exponentially–now they have a couple of thousand people. Also Boeing bought them. Despite this they maintain an independent streak–proudly declaring that a Boeing employee badge doesn’t get you through the door at Insitu.
So as part of Boeing’s PR efforts, they took us out to the eastern part of Oregon–allegedly the “high desert”, which looks a lot more like the foothills of Alberta than say the Mojave or Sahara–to demonstrate the system to us in flight.
It was very impressive–my colleague Tim Robinson (he’s the dude to the right of Laura in the last post–he’s practically invisible sitting next to her, but if you look closely he’s there), editor of the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Aerospace International magazine actually got to launch the plane. So I was kinda jealous…
So here is a video I shot of the event using my trusty Blackberry… Given how incredibly windy it was–I estimate winds of at least 30 knots gusting to 50 knots or so– I was surprised they decided to fly.
So once it’s in the air, it orbits about 800ft to 1200ft off the ground. They showed us the control trailer- operating the aircraft is mostly a fly-by-mouse affair. The control system software runs on–no kidding–Microsoft Windows… I would have preferred the Mac O/S myself, but to each his own. The sensor ball on the aircraft is controlled by a CH Flightstick–one of those old joysticks from back in the day when PC flight-sims were still popular (i.e. pre-X-box or Playstation). They also have a back-up radio controller similar (or more likely exactly the same as) to what R/C pilots use to control their model/toy aircraft.
The camera ball on the plane is pretty impressive too. We were able to track a truck quite easily as it moved down the road and track its human occupant once he left the vehicle. I could tell he had a rifle and that he was dressed in hunting gear. But unfortunately, while you can see the target, there is no way to kill the target… you have to call someone to do that part. Oh well, can’t have everything…
The ScanEagle is way too small to carry weapons with its tiny one-cylinder 1.9hp engine.