A guide to drones

AP Photo: Eric Gay, File
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MQ-9 Predator B

Although drones are common in the military, they are becoming increasingly used for non-military roles, including domestic surveillance. Domestic drones are called Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) by the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates their use. See gallery

A Predator B unmanned aircraft taxis at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas. Using the same technology responsible for lethal strikes elsewhere in the world, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is expanding its use of Predator B drones, which are outfitted with powerful infrared cameras and sensitive radar to patrol U.S. borders. This multi-mission reconnaissance aircraft is highly modular and can carry a variety of surveillance payloads as well as laser equipment and various weapons packages. 


  • Length: 36 feet
  • Wingspan: 66 feet
  • Maximum payload: 3,850 pounds
  • Operating altitude: 50,000 feet
  • Maximum speed: 276 mph
  • Flight duration: 27 hours
  • Power: Single TPE-331-10 turboprop engine
  • Payload: Surveillance payloads as well as laser equipment, and various weapons packages

Who's using the Predator B: U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and NASA

Sources: usgs.gov, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. 

Getty Images: Tony Karumba, AFP
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A Raven, an aerial reconnaissance vessel, is shown being launched by members of the 3rd Platoon, Delta Coy, 1-64 Armored Battalion of the U.S. Army operating under NATO command just outside the village of Madowza'i Kalay in Kandahar, bordering a district to the east known for heavy Taliban presence.

The AeroVironment Raven is a rapidly deployed, hand-launched small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) primarily designed for reconnaissance and surveillance with low altitude operation. It is classified as a Mini UAV by the U.S. Government Accountability Office and can be operated manually or can autonomously navigate a preplanned route. The Raven includes a color electro-optical camera and an infrared camera for night operations. 


  • Length: 36 inches
  • Wingspan: 4.5 feet
  • Weight: 4.8 pounds
  • Operating altitude:100-500 feet air ground level
  • Speed: 30-60 mph
  • Range: 4.9-7.45 miles
  • Flight duration: 60-90 minutes
  • Power: Electric motor, rechargeable lithium ion batteries
  • Launch method: Hand launch
  • Payload: High resolution, day/night camera and thermal imager 

Who's using the Raven: The U.S. Geological Survey, all U.S. military services. For the U.S. Air Force the Raven has been used in combat to support U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other areas of conflict.

Sources: AeroVironment, Inc., www.avinc.com, USGS, U.S. Air Force

Draganfly Innovations Inc
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Draganflyer X6

The Draganflyer X6 is a six-rotor, helicopter-style sUAS capable of streaming real-time video and taking high-definition digital still images. It is intended to be flown within line-of-sight and offers vertical takeoff and landing, as well as the ability to hover and hold in one GPS position.


  • Maximum takeoff weight: 4.4 pounds with payload
  • AV Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Length: 33.5 inches
  • Height: 11.25 inches
  • Width: 36 inches
  • Speed: 30 mph
  • Range: 6.2 miles
  • Endurance: 20 minutes
  • Maximum altitude: 8,000 feet
  • Maximum speed: 30 mph

Who's using the Draganflyer X6: Grand Forks County, N.D. Sheriff’s Department

Sources: Draganfly Innovations Inc, www.draganfly.com, Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department

Reuters: Erik De Castro, File
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The T-Hawk offers ease of assembly and can be airborne within 10 minutes. With its vertical takeoff and landing ability, the T-Hawk  is a reconnaissance and surveillance system with hover and persistent stare capabilities offering video documentation.


  • System weight: 51 pounds
  •  AV weight: 16.2 pounds (18.2 pounds with fuel)
  •  Endurance: 47 minutes
  •  Height : 23 inches
  •  Diameter: 23.5 inches
  •  Service Ceiling: 8,000 feet (with 150-300 feet typical)
  •  Speed: 45 mph
  •  Range: 6.2 miles

Who's using the T-Hawk: The U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Navy, and Miami-Dade County, Fla., Police Department.

Sources: usgs.gov, aerospace.honeywell.com

Reuters: U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Eric D. Warren
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The Shadow

The RQ-7B Shadow is classified as a Tactical UAV by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. It provides reconnaissance, relays communications, and assists in target acquisition as it flies above the battlefield for extended periods of time. While in flight, it constantly relays information between Marine air and ground controls.


  • Length: 11.2 feet
  • Wingspan: 14 feet
  • Gross weight: 375 pounds
  • Operating altitude:100-500 feet air ground level
  • Maximum speed: 135 mph
  • Range: 68 miles
  • Flight duration: Up to 6 hours
  • Power: 38 horsepower rotary engine
  • Launch method: Launched from a trailer-mounted pneumatic catapult, fixed, 3-wheel landing gear
  • Payload: Video and laser targeting systems used to locate enemy positions as well as well as electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) sensors, communications relay payloads and laser designators

Who's using the Raven: U.S. Army, Army National Guard and Special Operations Forces, as well as the Marine Corps. The Shadow has been used in combat to support the U.S. in Afghanistan, and in Iraq it has flown over 750,000 flight hours in more than 173,000 missions.

Sources: USMC, United States Government Accountability Office, AAI Logistics & Technical Services, www.marines.com

Northrop Grumman Corporation: Alan Radecki
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The Global Hawk

The Global Hawk is classified as a Strategic UAV by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. In this class, vehicles fly from medium to high altitude with an endurance that ranges from hours to days. With its ability to house a variety of mission-specific sensors, the Global Hawk is able to provide Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) data collection and dissemination for various civil, commercial and military missions.


  • Length: 47.6 feet
  • Height: 15.4 feet
  • Wingspan: 130.9 feet
  • Gross weight: 32,250 pounds
  • Maximum altitude: 60,000 feet air ground level
  • Maximum speed: 330 knots true air speed
  • Range: More than 10,000 nautical
  • Flight duration: Up to 36 hours
  • Power: Rolls-Royce AE3007H, Turbofan Engine flat rated at 7,580 pounds of thrust
  • Launch method: Once the mission is programmed into Global Hawk, it taxis, takes off, flies its mission, and lands autonomously. The ground station pilot can redirect the UAV at any moment.   
  • Payload: Depending on the version, they can carry upwards of 3,000 pounds of communications and sensor payloads, allowing for true multi-intelligence collection capability.

Who's using the Global Hawk: U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, NASA, NATO

Sources: Northrop Grumman Corporation, northropgrumman.com, United States Government Accountability Office, NASA, www.nasa.gov