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Chapter 5:
Platforms, Sensors, and Applications
The aircraft that carry UAV imaging sensors include everything from the high-altitude Predator and Global Hawk to micro-UAVs that are hand-launched. While large aircraft are predominantly military models, smaller platforms are used in both commercial and military applications where it is desirable to minimize the size, weight, and power (SWaP). This chapter introduces UAV platforms large and small, and examines some of the platform issues related to sensor choice. We examine how sensors operating in different spectral regions may accomplish a similar mission and emphasize the infrared region in terms of thermal contrast, figures of merit, and testing. Table 5.1 provides a snapshot of some of the large U. S. military platforms and relevant parameters such as length, weight, endurance, and altitude. The Raven, a small DoD platform, is included for comparison. Figure 5.1 compares the sizes of these platforms along with others. The platforms and the 6-ft. figure beside them are drawn to scale. The larger platforms’ imaging sensors are well-defined; rather than developing new sensors for each mission, sensor suites for theater and tactical U. S. DoD platforms are specified long in advance. Table 5.2 lists mission and payload types on some larger platforms. Several carry both video and still cameras and include laser instrumentation for covert target illumination. While different UAV systems have been designed for different missions and/or altitudes/durations, there is some competition for instruments within the DoD. For example, sensors from the manned U2 reconnaissance platform have been integrated into Global Hawk with the goal of long-term cost savings.
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