US Testing Next Generation of Spy Drones
Stealthy new planes can fly higher and faster than before
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 11, 2011 9:57 AM CST
AeroVironment's Global Observer Stratospheric unmanned drone completes its initial test flight.   (Photo: Edwards Air Force Base)
camera-icon View 2 more images

(Newser) – Last week, the US ran a secret test of an experimental spy plane that could revolutionize the war in Afghanistan. The $30 million plane, dubbed the Global Observer, has a wingspan almost as long as a Boeing 747, and can fly at stratospheric heights for days, keeping its “unblinking eye” on some 280,000 square miles—an area bigger than Afghanistan, the LA Times reports.

And that’s just one of the new planes. Another, the bat-winged X-47B from Northrop Grumman, carries laser-guided bombs. A third, Boeing’s Phantom Ray, is designed for stealth missions behind enemy lines. And unlike the current crop of propeller-powered drones, all three drones have jet engines, and can evade enemy radar. “This is a paradigm shift,” says the CEO of AeroVironment, which makes the Global Observer. “It’s so radically different that it’s hard for people to wrap their minds around it.”