Nuclear-powered drone aircraft on drawing board

      Home » Military Technology / Videos » Nuclear-powered drone aircraft on drawing board
More Military Articles

Nuclear-powered drone aircraft on drawing board

 http://www.newscientist.com...

This certainly has the potential to be a flying bomb, if it crashes or gets hit...

http://www.newscientist.com/ns_images/9999/99993406F1.JPG

The US Air Force is examining the feasibility of a nuclear-powered version of an unmanned aircraft. The USAF hopes that such a vehicle will be able to "loiter" in the air for months without refuelling, striking at will when a target comes into its sights.

But the idea is bound to raise serious concerns about the wisdom of flying radioactive material in a combat aircraft. If shot down, for instance, would an anti-aircraft gunner in effect be detonating a dirty bomb?

It raises political questions, too. Having Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) almost constantly flying over a region would amount to a new form of military intimidation, especially if they were armed, says Ian Bellamy, an arms control expert at Lancaster University in Britain.

But right now, there seems no stopping the proliferation of UAVs, fuelled by their runaway success in the Kosovo and Afghanistan conflicts. The big attraction of UAVs is that they do not put pilots' lives at risk, and they are now the norm for many reconnaissance and even attack missions.

The endurance of a future nuclear-powered UAV would offer military planners an option they might find hard to turn down. Last week, the Pentagon allocated $1 billion of its 2004 budget for further development of both armed and unarmed UAVs.


Feasibility studies

The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has funded at least two
feasibility studies on nuclear-powered versions of the Northrop-Grumman Global Hawk UAV (pictured). The latest study, revealed earlier in February at an aerospace technology conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, concluded that a nuclear engine could extend the UAV's flight time from hours to months.

But nuclear-powered planes are not a new idea. In the 1950s, both the US and the USSR tried to develop nuclear propulsion systems for piloted aircraft. The plans were eventually scrapped because it would have cost too much to protect the crew from the on-board nuclear reactor, as well as making the aircraft too heavy.

The AFRL now has other ideas, though. Instead of a conventional fission reactor, it is focusing on a type of power generator called a quantum nucleonic reactor. This obtains energy by using X-rays to encourage particles in the nuclei of radioactive hafnium-178 to jump down several energy levels, liberating energy in the form of gamma rays. A nuclear UAV would generate thrust by using the energy of these gamma rays to produce a jet of heated air.

The military interest was triggered by research published in 1999 by Carl Collins and colleagues at the University of Texas at Dallas. They found that by shining X-rays onto certain types of hafnium they could get it to release 60 times as much energy as they put in
By netchicken: posted on 22-2-2003








Nuclear-powered drone aircraft on drawing board | [Login ]
Powered by XMB
Privacy Policy