SA develops mini-UAV


An SA company has developed a mini surveillance plane that requires no piloting skills.Miniaturisation and backroom hi-tech has allowed Midrand-based defence
company Advanced Technology & Engineering (ATE) to develop a miniature
unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that “requires no piloting skills, not even those
of a model aircraft enthusiast,” a company release says.

If taken into service by the SA National Defence Force, the UAV, named Kiwit, will allow troops with modest education to operate sophisticated modern technology, using an intuitive mission-planning system coupled with waypoint-based navigation.

The ground control station (GCS) – a rugged laptop – uses a digital map display for flight planning and control. The Kiwit is hand-launched and flies along the route chosen by its operator. It lands automatically upon return.

Should the data link between the aircraft and GCS break down, the Kiwit automatically returns to its launch point or another designated point. It will also do that if its battery power begins to fail. When it is necessary to change the flight path, even during flight, the operator makes the adjustment on the laptop and the Kiwit flies itself to where the new object of interest is, range and power supply permitting.

The electrically-powered Kiwit weighs 3kg (15kg including the GCS), and can fly for an hour at a speed of 50kmph. It has a radius of action of 5km. The aircraft is made from composite material and breaks down into several sections (fuselage sections, wings, tail and payload) for transport. It takes five minutes to assemble.

A prototype, on display at the African Aerospace and Defence 2006 expo in Cape Town last month, had an approximate wing span of 1.8m and a body length of 1m. The payload is in a pod under a narrow boom fuselage.

ATE director of special projects Carel de Beer says work on the Kiwit started in May. Rapid prototyping allowed first flight at the end of June. The system was developed with the infantry and special forces in mind and seeks to give them the ability to “look over that hill”. Costs were kept in check by using commercial components and low-cost production methods where possible, he says.

The payload consists of an eight megapixel video-camera with a zoom and real-time down-link. The operator can control the camera from the ground and make video clips, as well as take still pictures.

Related story:
Tactical intelligence goes hi-tech