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British soldiers flying nano helicopters in Afghanistan

by Mike Hoffman on February 5, 2013

British soldiers are flying in Afghanistan a miniature helicopter that is the size of your hand and weighs just 14 grams.

The Black Hornet Nano Unmanned Air Vehicle is equipped with a camera that provides full motion video and sill photos. British soldiers have used it mostly to see around corners and into rooms.

The mini helicopter looks  a lot like a child’s toy, but it’s proven effective thus far. The Black Hornet was developed by Prox Dynamics AS based in Norway. The British have ordered 160 thus far.

“Black Hornet is definitely adding value, especially considering the lightweight nature of it,” said British Sgt. Christopher Petherbridge of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force in Afghanistan. “We use it to look for insurgent firing points and check out exposed areas of the ground before crossing, which is a real asset. It is very easy to operate and offers amazing capability to the guys on the ground.”

Philip Dunne, the British Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, offered similar praise for the Black Hornet.

“Black Hornet gives our troops the benefits of surveillance in the palm of their hands. It is extremely light and portable whilst out on patrol,” Dunne said in a statement.

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Lance February 5, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Must be for the pilots who flunked flying anything from a Tornado to a Apache, get to fly a toy. LOL


marc February 5, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Can you just imagine a bunch of enemy soldiers swatting at these things, trying desperately to save themselves from the impending artillery barrage?


George Gauthier February 5, 2013 at 7:02 pm

Or, like the Iraquis in the Gulf War, trying to surrender to it before the barrage hits.


Ranger Rick February 5, 2013 at 7:14 pm

This thing should be adapted to contain air burst ordnance like the kind used by the XM25 – a 25mm grenade. It would be like having the proverbial "bullet with your name on it." in your arsenal. A swarm of ordnance-bearing Black Hornets would give the insurgents fewer places to hide.


tmb2 February 5, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Except for this thing it's making a name for itself because it only weighs 14 grams. It probably doesn't have the lift to haul a D cell battery let alone a hand grenade. If anything it should be modified or camoflauged to not look as much like a helicopter.


Drone February 6, 2013 at 2:37 am

An average 20mm cannon shell only carries a few grams of explosive yet that is more than enough to be lethal, so all they need to do is scale it up slightly. If you can get it to tag someone and follow them, there would be no escape. The helicopter components themselves would be turned into high velocity fragments lethal to anyone within a few feet.


Warfighter February 8, 2013 at 8:02 am

20mm canon rounds are pretty hefty for a small aircraft. They weigh around 900g each, if I remember correctly. You have to consider that any weight needs to be distributed across all the payload, so that includes electro-optics, batteries, etc.

A 900g payload takes a much, much larger UAV than something that fits in your hand and weighs 14g. An aircraft that can lift that much is going to have the wingspan of a small table (ish), which makes it much more difficult to carry around, and therefore less attractive for the type of application this particular device is conceived for.

The attractiveness of this device is that it is compact and low weight, and therefore can be carried in greater numbers by the troops which are in close contact with hostile forces.. It may be more feasible to load it up with a shotgun, 5,56mm round, or maybe even a .22 round – plenty problematic if it hits the right spot at close range. However, accuracy will probably be a problem, as I don't see rotary wing micro UAV being very stable firing platforms.


Drone February 11, 2013 at 6:06 am

Let's take the M56A3 20mm round fired by the M61 gatling. The actual shell weighs 102 grams, of which on 9 grams is explosive. Remember that in order to survive being fired, the shell needs to have very thick walls.

My contention is that a slightly larger UAV than the subject of this article could easily carry 10-15 grams of HE. You wouldn't need a thick or heavy shell to generate fragments, because the aircraft structure itself would disintegrate and serve as a wounding agent.

As to mounting a firearm, certainly a lightweight 0.22" semi auto can easily be carried by existing large quadrotors. Since such a UAV could conceivably fly right up to a few feet of the enemy, you don't need a high powered rounds or extreme accuracy.

Something like this virtual scenario is already technologically feasible: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-wAzlqzXH0&fe

tiger February 6, 2013 at 11:40 am

Big dragonfly? Sparrow with a rotor?


Dan Gao February 7, 2013 at 1:47 pm

This particular platform probably wouldn't work as a weapon launched round, but your concept is very sound. There is so much promising technology for infantry and small units these days, we should be making "outside the box" ideas like that a priority, budget cuts or not.


Thunder350 February 5, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Looks more like a "off the shelf" type product with a camera found in most small hand held devices. Probably works better and cost a fraction of the cost of what America's military industrial complex comes up with.


Matt Musson February 6, 2013 at 8:36 am

I bet Lockheed could gen one up for $1 million each and $10 million in development costs.


Johno February 6, 2013 at 12:32 pm
stan February 5, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Sure hope it's easier to fly than those little toy helos they sell on every corner.


EW3 February 5, 2013 at 11:21 pm

The original UAVs were game changers.

These could be game changers at a tactical level.

Any small unit would love to have a few of these so they could take point while on patrol, or add eyes to any recon. Be great in case they came under fire while on patrol.

One suggestion though, if networked, I'd add an audio detector. Would permit triangulation of a sniper shot


Thomas L. Nielsen February 6, 2013 at 2:23 am

"One suggestion though, if networked, I'd add an audio detector."

Put a 2-way audio link on it.

An insurgent is setting up an IED, when suddenly:
Voice out of nowhere: "Oy, you! Put that IED down and step away".
Insurgent: "What?"
Voice out of nowhere: "I SAID: PUT THE FRIGGIN' IED DOWN!"
Insurgent [looks around]: "Who is speaking?"
Voice out of nowhere: "Allah! Now do as I friggin' tell you, or I promise you the only virgins you'll be getting are over 40 and male".

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen


john February 6, 2013 at 5:00 am

They are not virgins. And all they get is big fat drag queens


Melissa February 6, 2013 at 8:29 am
Thomas L. Nielsen February 6, 2013 at 10:12 am

In the immortal (literally) words of Achmed the Dead Terrorist:

"If this is paradise, I've been screwed!"

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen

tiger February 6, 2013 at 11:56 am

The Black Hornet, bought to you by the fine folks at "Q" branch? 007 could fit this in the pocket of his tux. Get inside the Aston Martin & check inside the windows of a building without climbing. Plant a bug & fly back to the car. Hostage rescue operations can use these to go where you need eyes on a target. It's so small & quiet, You would mistake it as a weapon. Even the Private investigator could use this to keep a eye on the Insurance fakers & cheating spouses. Cool item


Lom Poper February 6, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Boy needs a haircut.


The Big PG February 6, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Did it really need to be designated 'unmanned?'


Thomas L. Nielsen February 7, 2013 at 2:26 am

Well that what they want you to think! Knowledgeable Insider Sources (TM) tell me that the Black Hornet is in fact NOT unmanned. It is piloted by tiny leprechauns imported from Ireland and genetically engineered specifically for this purpose.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen


benny February 6, 2013 at 2:27 pm

It is not cheap however. I think it's around $100K each. The F35 of UAV's. http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/picture


Nick February 6, 2013 at 2:43 pm

This is great, I was just thinking 'What can we do to give everything that flies in a war zone a death sentence' /sarcasm

Poor Birds :(


Vince February 6, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Ounces equal pounds.
Pounds equal pain.

This isn't even an ounce.


Peter February 6, 2013 at 3:58 pm

I love the idea! But at that price it isn't as expendable as I would like to see it. Let's be honest, it's useful but an awful lot are going to get lost. Even if it's just due to running out of power before it gets home. Given the technology I would have hoped it could be a lot cheaper. Banging up the price because it's a defence project?


cptjohnpaul February 6, 2013 at 10:14 pm

A great idea! Now how do you hang the bombs on?


tiger February 7, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Too small to even lift a pistol mag…… This is for recon/spy work. ahead. See in a window type thing. Very short range stuff.


cptjohnpaul February 7, 2013 at 11:50 pm

As you know we tried bats to fire bomb Japanese wood homes during World War Two, the program was stopped due to the Little Boy and Fat Man atomic bomb program! I understand the purpose and I like it, I was commenting how it would be nice if we could hang bombs on it! It may be possible!


Laserjock February 8, 2013 at 8:21 am

I am surprised by the amount of sarcasm around this. If I was about to have to cross some partially open terrain or head through some buildings with obvious pinch points, why not have a few of these that could be buzzed over a wall or along some roof tops to see who was laying around waiting.


Guest February 9, 2013 at 11:01 am

Paint the things safety orange! You just know some jacka$$ will try to take a shot at it. You can crash it into him and mark his position!


Looksgoodtome February 12, 2013 at 4:37 pm

How come our guys don't have this? I much rather the Squad Leader send this gizmo into the house first instead of my son.


blight_ February 12, 2013 at 5:01 pm

We're supposed to buy American. And we already have a number of bots that can be thrown in first.

It's not 2003 anymore.


nilsplat April 17, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Why do we have to develop everything? We could by them from the brits and save development costs.


Lance February 6, 2013 at 3:00 pm

See the nagger and jerks say bo hoo come on just joking!!


cptjohnpaul February 6, 2013 at 10:19 pm

A great idea! Now how do you hang the bombs on?


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