Jay Dirnberger 3/14/13


Last week Y’s Man Captain Jay Dirnberger gave an outstanding presentation about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s), more commonly known as Drones. Jay served as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, involved predominantly in search and rescue, and was awarded both the bronze and silver stars. Jay was familiar with one of the first primitive Drones in 1968, which was launched from and controlled by the USS Mansfield. It contained a video camera and a single bomb.

Jay then described the evolution of UAV or Drone types. The first were “Target and Decoy” UAVs predominantly used for target practice. Then came reconnaissance UAVs, combat UAVs where armaments were added, up to Civil and Commercial UAVs for border patrol and resource detection.

The benefits of drones are many including the following features:

  • Inexpensive: A Drone flying for 3 hours uses less then 0.3% of the fuel that a fighter would use. The cost of a drone is a small percentage of a fighter plane.
  • Endurance: Drones can fly for over 24 hours without worrying about fatigue or boredom
  • Precision: With precision optics, laser guided bombs and a GPS, they can hit a target within a few feet or less.
  • Elusive: They can fly at least at altitudes of 50,000 feet, are very quiet, and have a small radar profile.
  • Layers of Oversight: Since they don’t travel very fast they can provide multiple opportunities to assess and determine targets.

Jay then showed a video highlighting excerpts from the PBS Nova presentation called “ Rise of the Drones”. Today there are over 10,000 Drones available replacing up to 2,300 manned fighter planes. The most used Drone is the “Raven” which has flown thousands of missions. The Predator Drone carries “Hellfire” missiles and is used for eliminating targets of interest. It has been used to destroy over 1,000 enemy insurgents since 2001.The largest Drone is the “Large Global Hawk” which can stay aloft for up to 36 hours vs 2 hours for the typical manned fighter. Amazingly, we are still in the early stages of Drone development and many new designs are currently being developed.

The modern Drone started with the development of the “Scout” by the Israelis in the 1970s, which was strictly used for reconnaissance. That evolved to the US developed “Reaper”, then the “Predator” and finally the “Raven” which is used today in 7 countries. At the present time Boeing and Sikorsky are developing helicopters that can be used either manned or unmanned.

Key to any Drone is the electro-optical front end containing the camera, laser, pointing optics, and detectors. A new development is the “Argus” digital camera, which contains 1.8 billion pixels, the equivalent of 368 high-resolution cameras. Its field of view is equivalent to that of 100 “Predators” flying simultaneously! From up to 78,000 feet it can zoom in with a resolution down to 6 inches!

Finally there are some drawbacks to Drones. These include: airspace limitations, accidents, loss of control, making it too easy to go to war, loss of privacy, and legal issues such as killing Americans without due process.

Finally Jay showed a Smartphone controlled helicopter that can be bought for $29. He promised to demo it during lunch.

During Q&A the following points were made:

  • The technology is easy to copy. The hardest part is the precision optics. We should expect that our enemies will have the ability to use Drones also.
  • They are susceptible to small arms fire but they do fly high, are fairly quiet, and have a small radar profile.
  • The 7 countries that currently use Drones are the US, France, The U.K., China, Russia, Israel, and Italy.
  • Drone helicopters will be predominantly used for search and rescue.

Thank you Jay for an outstanding presentation.