Aviation Museums Reveal The Truth About Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 17 August 2007
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photo of a small blue drone aircraft

The Tasuma UAV is equipped with digital cameras to take aerial photographs for mapping and environmental monitoring. Photo: Howard Heeley

Unmanned aircraft may have made the news because of their high profile deployment in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, but there is much more to these multi-purpose vehicles.

The Newark Air Museum is lifting the lid on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs, with a new exhibition exploring the history, role and future of unmanned flight, which will also run concurrently at the RAF Museum Hendon.

The Truth About Unmanned Aerial Vehicles runs until the end of October at both venues and uses model replicas, hands on demonstrations, plus an interactive quiz and video to trace the development of UAVs and show how their use has extended beyond the purely military.

It has been developed in conjunction with Nottingham University’s Institute of Engineering, Surveying and Space Geodesy (IESSG).

photo of a small blue drone aircraft

Digital videos can also be carried on the Tasuma. Photo Howard Heeley

“The IESSG were keen to try and dispel some of the myths about what UAVs can and can’t do currently and to show they can be used to benefit humanitarian and civilian applications, not just high profile military uses,” said Dr Chris Hill, Principal Research Officer at the IESSG.

The exhibition takes visitors back to 1849 when the Austrians used hot air balloons to drop explosives on Venice and looks at the introduction of the first life-sized radio controlled aeroplane in the 1930s. It goes on to look at the current uses of UAVs in the military, emergency services and science.

UAVs are being increasingly used for civilian purposes to keep a remote eye on what is happening both on the ground and in the sky. They have been successfully adapted for weather monitoring and monitoring illicit drug trafficking and have also been used to survey contaminated regions, in the aftermath of disasters like Chernobyl.

They can minimise the risk to humans, by following criminals or by monitoring hostage situations, and the future holds even more applications.

Modern UAVs range from simple model aircraft to vehicles like the WK450, the UK’s reconnaissance drone for the Watchkeeper programme, which has a wingspan of more than 10 metres.

photo of a small drone aircraft with a blue fuselage and white wings

Drones like the Navigator provide low cost solutions for a variety of civilian applications – sometime as an alternative to satellites. Photo Howard Heeley

Although UAVs are normally controlled by a pilot on the ground, scientists are developing craft that can pilot themselves autonomously and respond to pre-programmed mission objectives.

Researchers are currently developing micro UAVs, so small that they could land in the palm of a hand. These tiny aircraft can be equipped with sensors and instruments to retrieve information to send back to base and could be used to undertake tasks in confined spaces, such as pipelines and collapsed buildings in disaster zones.

They have insect-like wings and could fly in swarms, working together to accumulate information.

Howard Heeley, Secretary and Trustee at the Newark Air Museum, said: “The exciting new display will provide our visitors with a fascinating insight into both the history and future possible developments of UAVs…We are certain it will help people to start understanding the science behind UAVs and their expanding utilisation for civilian use.”

The project has brought together academics from the IESSG, who are experts in sensor and positioning systems, with The Department for Aerospace, Power and Sensors at the Royal Military College of Science in Shrivenham.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: