Pioneer UAV Inc., a joint venture between AAI Corp. of Cockeysville and one of Israel's largest defense contractors, has been awarded a $20.2 million contract to supply the U.S. Navy with 20 Pioneer unmanned aerial vehicles.
The Pioneer is a small -- 14 feet long with a wingspan of 17 feet -- remote-controlled plane that looks more like a toy than a fighting machine. It carries a tiny television camera in its nose and is used primarily for reconnaissance, artillery adjustment and assessing battlefield damage.
The drone is designed to fly for more than five hours at altitudes up to 15,000 feet.
AAI President Richard R. Erkeneff said the contract would mean about $10 million in new business for the company, which has suffered in recent years from Pentagon budget cuts.
Mr. Erkeneff said AAI had completed work on a previous order for 12 Pioneers in February, and the new contract will permit production to continue.
Although the contract is not expected to result in any new hires at AAI, the company said that it would help stabilize the current work force of slightly more than 1,000 people. Only about 25 workers are involved in the Pioneer program.
During the Persian Gulf War, the planes were used to help enforce the naval blockade of Iraq by identifying ships operating in the region. The little planes blasted off the deck of Navy ships on scouting missions up to 100 miles away.
AAI's partner in the venture is Israel Aircraft Industries. The joint venture was formed in the summer of 1991 as part of an out-of-court settlement over production rights to the Pioneer aircraft.