AAI Corp., the Cockeysville company that produced the Pioneer drones that were used effectively in the Persian Gulf war, is bidding on a new $1.2 billion contract for the development of a smaller plane that troops could deploy more rapidly.
Pioneer, which carries a television camera in its belly, was used in the war to track the movement of Iraqi tanks and ground troops; to direct battleship and ground artillery fire; and to assess battle damage after bombing runs.
The one complaint the military had with AAI drone was that the planes and related ground equipment were too large for rapid deployment to a war zone and speedy shifting from one part of the battlefield to another.
Pioneer weighs nearly 500 pounds, is 14 feet long and has a 17-foot wingspan. According to Walter Primas, an AAI official, it takes three 5-ton trucks and two Humvees (Jeep-like vehicles) to carry a Pioneer system (six planes and the necessary ground equipment).
Shadow, AAI's smaller unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is about 5 feet long, has a wing span of 13 feet and weighs less than 200 pounds. It is designed so planes and equipment can by transported by a couple of Humvees with trailers.
AAI, the main manufacturing subsidiary of United Industrial Corp. of New York, will likely face competition for the lucrative contract. It and five potential rivals are scheduled to hold demonstration flights of their small drones early next year. Based on its findings from these flights, the Navy is expected to draw up specifications for a contract to be awarded in late 1993 or early 1994.
The Navy is already insisting that the new drone be able to carry a 50-pound payload, stay aloft for at least three hours and have a top speed of 180 mph.
Shadow is not the only new drone AAI engineers are working on. The company has teamed with Boeing Helicopter Co. of Philadelphia on the development of a tilt-rotor UAV called Tracer, which is designed to take off like a helicopter and fly like a fixed-wing plane. AAI and Boeing hope they will be able to sell the Tracer to the Navy, said William F. Herrfeldt, an AAI spokesman.
During the Persian Gulf war, the Navy launched its Pioneer drones from a ramp with a booster rocket. Landing involved flying the craft into something similar to a volleyball net. In comparison, the tilt-rotor craft "would go straight up and out on its mission," Mr. Herrfeldt said. "It would come back and drop straight down. All it needs is 15 square feet of space."