A family of mechanical birds takes flight to see, record and fight
by Mike Hasler
The need for war is maybe easier to understand than its mechanics are, but the practice of men devoting their lives to kill other men for men who sit safely at headquarters may be a practice standing on the border of revolution, with reliance on hand-held machines to deal death thankfully gone the way of trench warfare, cavalry rushes and finger-over-the-button diplomacy.
But what are those antiquated methods being replaced with? Enter the Silent Falcon, proud parent of two more Unmanned Aerial Systems bearing the name of the company that created them. New Mexico’s Silent Falcon UAS Technologies has created the solar-powered drone and is conceiving its cousins in co-operation with Bye Aerospace to achieve “longer duration intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance,” but there’s also a weaponized variant being designed to further the goal of replacing men on the battlefield.
In an Americana nod to boys playing with Radio Controlled airplanes, with just a touch of the Lego experience included, the Silent Falcon can be fitted with one of three available wing spans (to increase speed and shorten flying time or to sustain longer flight) then launched by hand. The nose has a propeller attached but the power that makes the prop’s electric motor spin comes from photovoltaic paneling created by Colorado’s Ascent Solar Technologies. Their absorption panel stretches across the top of the wings, and the longest set can drink enough sunlight to keep the Falcon flying fourteen hours. Ascent’s PV paneling has a non-reflective coating to defeat glare, and the thin, flexible strip (visually reminiscent of camera film) retires the fragility and weight of traditional glass solar panels.
The Silent Falcon looks and flies like a plane, but one small enough to put in the back of a pick-up to truck to the launching pad. After a city, field, or mountain is under it, an operator can fly the mechanical bird with a hand-held control box and wear a video screen on the wrist to monitor the drone’s status and returning sensor information. The Falcon’s low noise and cool heat signature allow it to soar over a target area without enemy radar betraying its flight path, and when it dives into the action it can cruise through a militarized zone undetected as it inspects supply lines and strategies.
Hidden in the Falcon’s lightweight, carbon fiber composite body are lithium polymer batteries to hold the sun’s charge. A retractable payload encases a high resolution camera powered by “FalconVision,” a “dual-imaging, gyro stabilized, high-definition set of cameras” that can send information to ground-based controllers in real-time. Short-wave infrared lets the Falcon see greyscale images in HD, even without the assistance of sun, moon, stars, or streetlamps. The Falcon’s motto is “Fly Silent, Fly Longer, See More” and, like its internal camera, but unlike any animal or human counterpart, the Silent Falcon is nocturnal, diurnal, and even crepuscular, making it the perfect solider for deployment any time of the night, day, dusk or dawn.
In an age where the things being described can actually be built and bought, it’s comforting to know some traditional methods are employed to land the Falcon. A landing strip will receive it as though it were a manned plane and, if it’s coming in too hot, a good old-fashioned parachute can be deployed to bring the bird down with ease.
The Silent Falcon proper spent over two years in development, but like anything that seemingly takes off overnight, there’s a longer history behind the cover story. The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle was born the ‘Silent Sentinel,’ introduced by Bye Aerospace in 2009 and coated in Ascent Solar’s pliable PV paneling, but the film, with its signature grid design, was at that time applied over a curved wing. (The wing piece on the Silent Falcon is flat on top, presumably a step in its evolution allowing for even ray absorption).
Three years later the Silent Sentinel evolved into the larger ‘Silent Guardian’, a UAV drawing power from a hybrid system. The Guardian couldn’t long protect its name however, as that same year, the line of design evolved to its final variant before commercial production, the twenty seven pound Silent Falcon.
When the Falcon is fitted with weapons and camouflage, it will also receive a new name. The ‘Snipe’ looks like the Falcon, except that this planned bird-of-prey will carry an extra propeller and point them both backward. The weaponized variant of the Falcon is designed for deadly accuracy and precision, having among many other uses the ability to seek and destroy individual soldiers without making the civilian mess that larger UAV’s create with their nasty Hellfire missiles. The Snipe doesn’t surrender firepower for stealth, though; hidden on board is a fully automatic machine gun that can inject any human or vehicle of war with 900 rounds per minute from as far away as two football fields. If your country has a pipeline, border, or coast, the Snipe can be sent to protect them all.
Every good idea gets a Version 2.0, and the Silent Falcon is not M.I.A. in this category. Like most sequels, the Silent Falcon Heavy Payload does everything bigger. Bigger payload, larger motors, longer wings, all pointed at specializing in geographical surveys, a journey often necessitating long hours in flight and the muscle to carry heavier sensor and camera equipment.
The Silent Falcon and its variants may soon give us a version of war where Generals can get a good night’s sleep knowing only the other side lost a lot of good men today. Beyond that, if we can create a machine that will defeat war altogether, we’ll have truly made progress in the field.