catapult

GILLIAM COUNTY, OREGON: Sometimes in this business, you get to see something that’s just plain neat. In this case, it was the ScanEagle (one word), a mini-drone built by Boeing subsidiary Insitu.

[Click here for more about Insitu’s uncertain prospects as defense spending declines].

ScanEagle is a UAV so compact it launches from a short rail, “lands” by snagging on a wire, and can be carried back to its box by a single man. (Really. Just watch the video). Reporters from Breaking Defense and other publications got to watch the whole process at Insitu’s test site in rural Oregon.

We’ve written before about the tactical logic behind the unusual landing methods of the ScanEagle and its larger, but still fairly portable successor, the Integrator, a new Insitu drone now being modified to meet military requirements as what the Navy and Marine Corps will call the RQ-21. Whereas the 44-pound ScanEagle can carry just one sensor at a time — either an ordinary video camera or one of two kinds of infra-red sensor; you can swap them one for another in a few hours. The 135-lb Integrator can carry several sensors at once. It’s the Integrator that the company hopes will carry its business into the post-Afghanistan War era.

Like many wars, this past decade of conflict has inspired a great deal of technological innovation amidst the human suffering. Now the challenge for companies like Insitu is to wean themselves from the flood of wartime funding, find a place in tight military budgets, and explore new opportunities in the civilian sector. Which, of course, is one of the reasons Boeing showed this to us.

[Full disclosure: Boeing paid for travel, hotel rooms and meals.]