OuterSpace >> Space >> UFOs vs. UAVs: How to Tell Friend from Faux (Pt 1)

UFOs vs. UAVs: How to Tell Friend from Faux (Pt 1)
Post by Noah on Oct 17th, 2003, 06:08am

There are some cool pictures at this site too:


UFOs vs. UAVs: How to Tell Friend from Faux

By Leonard David
Senior Space Writer
13 August 2003

In the coming years, the skies are going to be increasingly dotted with all types of uncanny aircraft. But interstellar travelers won't be piloting these vehicles.

What is likely to be zipping across your airspace are identified flying objects of the terrestrial kind. They are better known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and these robotic policing craft are loaded with high-tech sensors and other snooping gear.

Homeland Security head, Tom Ridge, has said his department is considering the use of UAVs to monitor U.S. borders "very seriously" and plans to work with the Department of Defense in evaluating the robot planes for this task by year's end.

Robert Bonner, Department of Homeland Security's commissioner of customs and border protection, told Congress in June that UAVs could offer a unique service. "UAVs may well be a good answer for stretches of the border that do not have enough sensor protection," he said.

Spotting border penetration by terrorists, or catching a view of illegal immigrants, are among feasible duties for UAVs, their surveillance and interception capabilities having been showcased in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) study groups say that one by-product in using any UAV the expected rise in flying saucer sightings. To the uneducated eye, UAVs just look weird

Seeing something unusual

As the buzz increases about UAVs, separating Earth-built craft from reports of incoming UFOs is getting tougher. There are already cases of mistaken identity. UAVs or classified test craft -- such as the mysterious "black triangle" -- have been branded as surely extraterrestrial in nature.

"I would definitely say that as time goes on it is becoming increasingly difficult to categorize UFOs as unidentified, given the large number of UAV projects that are in development," observes Colm Kelleher, a staff member and deputy administrator of projects for the National Institute of Discovery Science (NIDS).

NIDS is a privately funded group based in Las Vegas, Nevada and engaged in research on UFOs and other anomalous phenomena.

In 1999, NIDS set up a hotline for folks to call in if they saw something unusual. Since then, some 5,000 phone calls and emails from around North America have been received. The group investigated these reported anomalies as scientifically as possible.

After quickly weeding out crank calls, rocket launches, satellite re-entries, as well as meteors and other identifiable objects, NIDS was left with 1,100 reports that appeared worthy of follow up.

"Among these were approximately 300 sightings of large black triangles, but also multiple reports of sightings of small objects, some in daylight," Kelleher said.

"There are several other reports of sightings of small objects that might fit the category of small UAVs," Kelleher said. The aim of NIDS is to try to transfer as many sightings as possible from the "UFO" category to the "IFO" -- or identified flying object -- category.

"One of the things we plan to do as part of accomplishing this is to create a UAV database," Kelleher explained.

However, it might be hard to keep any UAV database current. That's how much work is underway, behind both open and closed doors.

Re: UFO vs. UAVs: How to Tell Friend from Faux Pt2
Post by Noah on Oct 17th, 2003, 06:10am

Drone on

Flying quietly for many hours at a time, UAVs scour the battlefield, on the lookout for ground movements as they silently relayed intelligence data to analysts far away. The drones performed a variety of military jobs and several are well known to the public, the Predator or the Global Hawk. However, at least eleven types of UAVs were utilized during the U.S. Pentagon's Operation Iraqi Freedom, the campaign to oust Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

According to one tally put together by NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, there are some 50 U.S. companies, academic institutions, and government groups developing over 150 UAV designs. And those are just the ones stamped "unclassified", never mind a bunch of top-secret vehicles.

Experts at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility break down UAVs into seven classes:

Tactical - the catch-all for the ubiquitous 50-pound (23-kilograms) to 1,000-pound (455-kilograms) deployable air vehicle;
Endurance - capable of extended duration flight, typically 24 hours or greater;
Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) - typically rotary wing;
Man Portable - light enough to be back-packed by an individual and launched by hand-throwing or sling-shot mechanism and are larger than micro air vehicles;
Optionally Piloted Vehicle (OPV) - capable of piloted or unpiloted flight operations, typically an adaptation of a general aviation aircraft;
Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) - defined as having no dimension larger than 6-inches (15-centimeters);
Research - developed for specific investigations, typically with no production intent.
In mid-March, the Defense Department unveiled a billion dollar roadmap for unmanned aerial vehicles during the next 25 years. Plans call for developing joint interoperable UAVs that are capable of everything from surveillance to air strike.

Urban area overflight

The prospect that UAVs may be misperceived as UFOs is possible, said Mark Rodeghier, Scientific Director of the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies in Chicago, Illinois.

"We certainly suspect that there were, and are, such reports. Of course, UAVs, as far as we know, are not flown all over the country, but only in certain places, such as near military bases, on the borders, and now possibly in some urban areas after 9/11. So there are vast areas of the country, I would think, where UAV misperceptions are unlikely," Rodeghier said.

Determining that a UFO sighting might be a UAV is extremely difficult, Rodeghier added, unless a UFO matches a known UAV in shape. Otherwise, there is no place to check to see if a UAV was flying in a certain locale. And given today's security situation, he doubts the public would be told, in any case.

"UAVs often have odd designs that don't resemble airplanes and are sometimes closer to the popular conception of a UFO's shape," Rodeghier said.

Advice to the UAV sightseer

What advice might be warranted to help sightseers spotting a UAV not to claim they are witnesses to an object of alien origin?

Given that UAVs are typically small in size and may not carry lights, this would make them hard to see at night, Rodeghier suggested.

"So most UAV sightings should occur during the day. Also, UAVs probably would not always land in populated areas. So people who see something close to the ground are probably not seeing a UAV. Lastly, if people could be told roughly where UAVs fly in the continental United States -- and where they don't -- this should help," Rodeghier said.

Re: UFO vs UAVs: How to Tell Friend from Faux (Pt3
Post by Noah on Oct 17th, 2003, 06:11am

Family of vehicles

For Homeland Security needs, there are numbers of candidate UAVs to pick from. For example, Boeing and The Insitu Group of Bingen, Washington recently signed a deal allowing the companies to work together and produce the low-cost, long-endurance ScanEagle. Boeing and Insitu foresee a variety of surveillance and communication roles for ScanEagle in the military, homeland security and commercial arenas.

The ScanEagle family of vehicles will have endurance ranges from 15 to more than 40 hours.

The Insitu Group demonstrated the first UAV to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The firm's Seascan UAV is designed to serve the commercial fishing industry for fish spotting.

Other UAVs are waiting in the wings, quite literally. In February, Northrop Grumman flew for the first time its tailless, oddball-looking Pegasus X-47A. Lessons learned from this UAV will support the company's interest in building a naval unmanned combat air vehicle, the UCAV-N.

Spooky and stealthy

It is possible that coastline cruising UAVs need not be too wild in design, at least contrasted to the more spooky and stealthy configurations.

That's the view of Scott Miller, a professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas.

"I'm not sure an exotic configuration is necessary, since stealth isn't a probable requirement. In such a case, the UAV's would have a fairly conventional look and the general public would probably not notice them. That is, unless they crash in their back yards," Miller said.

Needless to say there are UAVs that remain hidden and out of public limelight. These "Black World" flying machines are likely to be eye-catching to say the least.

Miller's best guesses about super-secret robot planes include a high-altitude stealthy long endurance vehicle, perhaps a melding of a U-2, the Darkstar, and Global Hawk. "That would be extremely valuable. It's rumored that Lockheed has been working on, off, and now on again on a B-2 [bomber] sized flying wing to fill this mission need. Given potential endurance requirements, an unmanned plane would be very desirable," he said.

Yet another cloak-and-dagger craft, Miller suggests, may already be airborne and operational. This "Wild-Weasel" of a stealthy vehicle is ideal for finding and eliminating enemy air defense systems. The unpiloted vehicle would be loaded with electronic warfare equipment to seek out enemy radars, then direct weapons to take out or suppress radar operations.

"I suspect that this has happened and something is in service," Miller said.