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Robotics The Military

Boeing Hummingbird Drone Crashes In Belize 68

Posted by samzenpus
from the drone-go-boom dept.
garymortimer writes "Still not reported elsewhere, Flight International reports another crash of the Boeing Hummingbird helicopter UAV. The Hummingbird A160 is in development, but test flights already demonstrate successively greater endurance, higher altitudes, more extensive autonomy, and greater payload. The program has ambitious goals of a 2,500-mile (4,000 km) range, 24-hour endurance, and 30,000 ft (9,100 m) altitude. Flights are largely autonomous, with the aircraft making its own decisions about how to fly itself so as to meet certain objectives, rather than relying on real-time human control. Maximum speeds are over 140 knots. The aircraft is 35 ft (11 m) from nose to tail and has a rotor diameter of 36 ft (11 m).[2] Until recently it was powered by modified Subaru automotive engines, but newer versions fly with the Pratt & Whitney PW207D turboshaft."
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Boeing Hummingbird Drone Crashes In Belize

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  • Terrain (Score:4, Informative)

    by derGoldstein (1494129) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @07:58PM (#33549158) Homepage
    According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]: "In August 2010 the A160 Hummingbird is undergoing jungle test flights in Belize". So it wasn't just having a joy ride in open skies, it was in a tricky terrain to navigate, for *any* kind of autonomous vehicle.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by brinic (938562)

      According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]: "In August 2010 the A160 Hummingbird is undergoing jungle test flights in Belize". So it wasn't just having a joy ride in open skies, it was in a tricky terrain to navigate, for *any* kind of autonomous vehicle.

      Aviation Week reported on its blog [aviationweek.com] that that the A160T crashed on approach, close to the landing site.

    • by Belizean (1231078)
      The terrain is actual beautiful, rolling green pastures and farmland adjacent to a national park in western Belize. The Boeing YMQ-18A crash was first reported from Belize [belizean.com] in a local news blog:
  • The problem (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Until recently it was powered by modified Subaru automotive engines, but newer versions fly with the Pratt & Whitney PW207D turboshaft.

    There's your problem. Everyone knows that automotive engines aren't involved in aerial crashes. That's why the previous design was so safe.

    • Good one, but you pointed out a significant change: The Subaru engines were internal combustion, while the Turboshaft is a type of gas turbine. It's not a trivial modification.
      • Hint: A Gas turbine is internal combustion too.
        • by c6gunner (950153)

          I was going to say the same thing, before I refreshed the page to see if anyone else was being a pedantic jackass :)

        • Damn it, why can't the lag on Slashdot kick in when I make a mistake in a post... If Slashdot lets me post less than a second after I click "Preview", I should take it as a sign that I messed something up. It's like any mechanism working on the first attempt -- it's never good news.
    • Re:The problem (Score:4, Interesting)

      by MachDelta (704883) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @10:26PM (#33549864)

      I'm actually kind of curious what Subaru motor they were using. Wikipedia says the PW207D puts out a max of 572shp, so I imagine the Subaru motor must have been fairly extensively modified because their consumer offerings top out around 320hp in the EJ25. An extra 100 ponies out of an EJ isn't hard, but much more than that gets expensive real fast.

      • Is it possible they were using a few engines or that the engine change also was a horsepower increase? If not, plenty of STI tunes hit 570 range.
      • It's possible the article was wrong and they were using a Mazda rotary engine. These are commonly used for experimental/hobbyist aircraft because of a high power to weight ratio and a simplicity that translates into good reliability. Some of the triple and quad rotor variants can match or better the power output of the turbine they switched to.

      • by ZDRuX (1010435)
        They just had Vin Diesel attach two bottles of NOZ.. BIG ONES.. bro
      • by fnj (64210)

        According to Merriam-Webster [merriam-webster.com], "automotive" doesn't have to mean "car." It could be a truck engine or some other ground vehicle (military?) engine. My guess is that it IS from a car, though. You can readily get over 500 hp from a WRX engine [turbo-kits.com].

      • by Onnimikki (63071)
        Subaru sells a number of engines that aren't used in their cars. We used a four-stroke Robin Subaru V2 EH65 on the University of Alberta's "Polar Bear" robot ( http://www.igvc.org/design/reports/dr24.pdf [igvc.org] & http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-9189202946151470237# [google.com] ). Their "industrial" engine line can be found here: http://robinamerica.com/industrial.aspx [robinamerica.com]
        • by MachDelta (704883)

          I suppose it's possible, but I doubt Subaru/Robin makes anything big enough for aircraft. However, the article does state "Subaru automotive" so I don't think another division of Fuji (they do dabble in aerospace, after all) was the source of the engine.

          Also, kind sir, I must take the liberty of informing you that UofA drools and Grant Mac rules. ;)

      • by cyn1c77 (928549)

        I'm actually kind of curious what Subaru motor they were using. Wikipedia says the PW207D puts out a max of 572shp, so I imagine the Subaru motor must have been fairly extensively modified because their consumer offerings top out around 320hp in the EJ25. An extra 100 ponies out of an EJ isn't hard, but much more than that gets expensive real fast.

        They are custom modifications... just like 500-hp STIs. Try searching google for "500 HP Subaru engine." Or search for "Subaru aircraft/hovercraft engine."

  • So - when will they declassify a version with small high wing and two large swiveling turbines at its ends?

  • This was on Flight International's iOS app yesterday.

    Flightglobal news has it as 1239 Friday.

    • by Arrepiadd (688829)

      How can parent be modded informative?

      Not reading the article is the way to go on /. but not properly reading the intro and then complaining about it should be frowned upon even on /.
      Just for you, from the text *up there*: "Still not reported elsewhere, Flight International reports..." actually linking to that Friday news you talk about.

      I know my post is just garbage and adds nothing to the subject itself, but rather than modding you down I think it may be more helpful to shove it on your face so you don't

  • Just ignore (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dunbal (464142) * on Saturday September 11, 2010 @08:31PM (#33549324)

    but test flights already demonstrate successively greater endurance, higher altitudes, more extensive autonomy, and greater payload.

    Don't let the fact that it crashes bother you at all, this is the drone you want!

    • by Ghjnut (1843450)
      Skynet...is that you?
    • but test flights already demonstrate successively greater endurance, higher altitudes, more extensive autonomy, and greater payload.

      Don't let the fact that it crashes bother you at all, this is the drone you want!

      No big deal ... they just didn't put enough sugar water in the feeder.

    • I agree with you if you mean that the drone you want is a bomb. xx
    • but test flights already demonstrate successively greater endurance, higher altitudes, more extensive autonomy, and greater payload.

      Don't let the fact that it crashes bother you at all, this is the drone you want!

      So this is the droid we're looking for!

    • by l0ungeb0y (442022)

      Yes, yes... that's all fine but does it speak Bocce?

    • I like the way they used Airbus naming conventions. Is that so that every time a crash makes a headline Joe Sixpack will swear never to fly in a yoorapeean airplane.

  • That's probably why it crashed. It wasn't afraid not to.

    • Did the programming team who designed the UAV flight-AI "afraid" that these multi-million drones drop like flies? If so, they should have programmed in "fear of losing your job", at the very least...
      • by v1 (525388)

        well it was flight testing after all. you're gonna lawn-dart a few drones from time to time.

        I'd like to have seen more details on the why and how though... good bet it was at landing or takeoff. I've smashed up my model heli numerous times that way. I've only mortared it twice. Flying, meh. Takeoff, not too bad. Landing, can be quite tricky.

        And never forget, takeoff is compulsory, but landing is mandatory. ;)

  • A great vacation spot for diving, but flight testing?
    • Re:Why Belize? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Saturday September 11, 2010 @09:35PM (#33549596)

      A great vacation spot for diving, but flight testing?

      Most test flights work fine over a desert. Trying it in a jungle is much more elucidative.

    • by shinehead (603005)
      It looks like the requirements are quite demanding, even for 2010. I would expect multiple mishaps before it reaches production status. As a side note: MILSPEC RFP's are generally quite aggressive and challenge the "state of the art" and requires correct operation in all conceivable environmental conditions. This accounts in part for the expense of military equipment.
    • by brinic (938562)

      A great vacation spot for diving, but flight testing?

      They were testing the DARPA developed Forester [darpa.mil] foliage-penetrating radar over Belize's [aviationweek.com] dense jungle canopies. They needed a stable platform, so it had to be a rotorcraft. Not sure why they chose a a fairly new unmanned aircraft as the test bed. Aviation Week has been covering the A160T and the testing down there pretty extensively.

  • further bankrupt the U.S.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ScrewMaster (602015) *

      further bankrupt the U.S.

      Well, this kind of tech at least has the potential for significant civilian spinoffs. Flying communications drones, for example, are being considered for providing broadband connectivity.

  • by zippthorne (748122) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @09:39PM (#33549626) Journal

    Therefore we shouldn't develop this weapon any more. After all, one failure means the whole project will never produce a useful tool, ever.

    • by oljanx (1318801)
      I don't think TFA is saying that. It mentions that "those trials" are coming to an early end. Which is appropriate. Obviously you want to work out the kinks before trashing another multi-million dollar UAV.
      • I don't think TFA is saying that. It mentions that "those trials" are coming to an early end. Which is appropriate. Obviously you want to work out the kinks before trashing another multi-million dollar UAV.

        Particularly if you only had one actual flying prototype example to work with. I too would like to know more about how and why it crashed - something that size coming down hard is not funny, and I'd rather they got the bugs out of the control systems while they're still testing.

      • I was commenting on a general tone which seems to follow failures, not-quite-meets expectations's, and the weird notion that initial expectations of early prototypes is somehow too low.

        See past projects plagued with criticism in the way-early stages that was really uncalled-for (and had the potential to stall the project, becoming self-fufilling). For example, the V-22 Osprey, and missile defense systems.

  • by dominious (1077089)
    where are all these people who thought that pilots are not necessary anymore? I've seen many of those in this thread:
    http://news.slashdot.org/story/10/09/06/1716245/Ryanairs-CEO-Suggests-Eliminating-Co-Pilots [slashdot.org]
    • by Anonymous Coward

      They're completely unnecessary -- we've finally developed AIs capable of controlled flight into terrain with no human input!

      More seriously, anyone who thinks a crash of an experimental autonomous rotorcraft with an open-ended AI (i.e. generating its own flight profile from requirements) is a valid argument against the feasibility of a fixed-wing transport flying a pre-planned profile semi-autonomously (likely with the ability to transfer control to one of a bank of standby pilots on the ground somewhere), i

    • by Xugumad (39311)

      We're here, taking note. I would want to know what the drone was doing when it crashed, for example are we talking fairly standard fly from A to B stuff, or doing stunts at low altitude? I would also say... I don't think pilots are unnecessary yet, but the days of requiring two pilots in a passenger jet are numbered. Possibly just with really big numbers...

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      No, he's keeping co-pilots. The 'plane is the pilot, the human is the co-pilot. There's still two pilots on the aircraft, see?

  • by inflex (123318) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @10:39PM (#33549910) Homepage Journal

    Why don't the editors just link to the original source rather than sending bucketloads of traffic to these sites?

    http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2010/09/10/347201/a160-hummingbird-crashes-during-testing-in-belize.html [flightglobal.com]

    Even contains MORE information like how it failed (in this case, something caused it to go into autorotation and basically didn't succeed with the landing).

  • by markdueck (796208) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @01:37AM (#33550704)
    I don't see other posts about this but they had 2 of those Hummingbirds here. Both were equipped with some new radar technology that is able to 'look' through canopy and see people. http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=17648&frmsrch=1 [7newsbelize.com] - The oval shaped box underneath the bird is the radar. It rotates to be perpendicular during flight. The point was to test the radar and also the bird at the same time. It's supposed to be quite enough for 'bad guys' not to hear it when it's flying at 10,000 feet. Belize was chosen for the testing because of the ideal canopy we have here. Word on the street is that the first one crashed because it ran out of fuel.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by brinic (938562)
      More info on the DARPA developed radar being tested here. [darpa.mil] The A160T program has had a few crashes over the last few years, even before it got to Belize. That said, it is a challenging project, so some accidents are inevitable.

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