Swarms Of UAVs Envisioned

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Remember when the fear was that we could cross paths with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)? Well, NASA is assuring us that it will someday be safe to "enable swarms of aircraft to move safely from one area to another as a flock or a group," according to NASA researcher John Melton. Melton was flushed with the success of a UAV experiment in which a pair of APV-3 UAVs (wingspan about 12 feet) went searching for a "virtual" forest fire. When one of them found the fire, it transmitted waypoint data to its wingmate and the second UAV "completed the mission." Along the way, the aircraft were able to autonomously react to obstacles while flying the pre-programmed mission. Meanwhile the Army is becoming quite attached to UAVs as reconnaissance and forward control platforms, and the smaller they are the better. The latest drone to help Army patrols scout the ground ahead (through day- and night-vision cameras that beam real-time video to a laptop) is a battery-powered plane with a four-foot wingspan that weighs a backpackable 25 pounds. It can stay in the air for 80 minutes, go as fast as 55 mph, fly as far as 10 miles from its control unit and packs its own GPS to stay on course. But can it come back to the hangar and tell embellished flying stories?