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UAV Flights 2003-2013

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UAV flights in the UK for the period 2013 to 2013 were reported in Hansard in response to a question tabled in the House of Commons.[1]

The question was asked of the UK, so the reply included detail down to the level of Scottish area flights.

Mr Watson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham of 15 May 2013, Official Report, column 221W, on unmanned aerial vehicles, on how many occasions flights of unmanned aerial vehicles have taken place in each of his Department's reserved airspace areas within the UK in each of the last 10 years; what the purpose of each such flight was; and what type of unmanned aerial vehicle was flown on each such occasion. [R] [166283]

The reply was fairly comprehensive, as follows, with the Scottish item in bold:

Mr Robathan: Available information on the number and location of flights of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), either on the military register or operating under a military flight test permit, in each of the last 10 years, is provided in the following table:

UAV type Number of flights Location Purpose
2003-06 Phoenix (1) (1) (1)
2004 Buster (2) Larkhill Trials
2006 Scan Eagle 22 Hebrides Range Capability Demonstration
2009 Desert Hawk III 126 Salisbury Plain Trials and Training
2010 Desert Hawk III 184 Salisbury Plain, Stanford, Otterburn Training and conversion to Role
" Watchkeeper 11 West Wales Airport Trials
2011 Desert Hawk III 564 Salisbury Plain, Stanford, Otterburn Training
" Watchkeeper 83 West Wales Airport Trials and Training
" Tarantula-Hawk 3 Thorney Island Training
2012 Desert Hawk III 1,180 Salisbury Plain Training
" Watchkeeper 129 West Wales Airport Trials and Training
" Tarantula-Hawk 11 Thorney Island Training
" Scan Eagle 5 South Coast Exercise Area Trials
2013 Desert Hawk III 555 Salisbury Plain, Stanford, Otterburn Training
" Watchkeeper 6 West Wales Airport French Army Training
" Watchkeeper 77 West Wales Airport Trials and Training
" Black Hornet (3)n/a Lydd Camp, Lossiemouth, Salisbury Plain(4) Training

(1) The Phoenix Unmanned Air System, which retired from service in 2006, was flown in UK airspace. Records of the number, location and purpose of Phoenix sorties are no longer centrally available and could be provided only at disproportionate cost. (2) Records of the number of Buster sorties are no longer centrally available and could be provided only at disproportionate cost. (3) Because of the way Black Hornet is used the number of sorties and flying hours are not recorded. (4) The locations identified are the primary areas in which Black Hornet has been operated. Because of the weight and size of the air vehicle and the height at which it operates, under Military Aviation Authority regulations there is no requirement to limit flights to segregated airspace.

Hebrides Range flights

ScanEagle, Picture: Boeing Defence UK via RN Government web article
Picture: Boeing Defence UK

UAV flights were noted at the Hebrides Range and at Lossiemouth, which is assumed to mean RAF Lossiemouth. Of 2,948 recorded flights reported (certain types were not recorded), only 22 took place on the Hebrides Range.

Flights at the Hebrides Range are described as Capability Demonstration involving the Boeing ScanEagle[2] in 2006, which coincides with other information regarding evaluation flights carried out in 2006, also referring to testing of the ScanEagle, which was then being flown from the frigate HMS Sutherland. ScanEagle has a wingspan of just over 3 metres (10 ft), a weight of 22 kg (48 lb), and is launched from a pneumatic catapult. The UAV flies at about 60 knots and is piloted by a specialist team on board the ship who plan its missions, control its flights, and monitor and analyse the information it gathers using its sensors, which include a video or infra-red camera. Data is transmitted to the team, including real-time high-resolution images. Payloads are housed in the nose section, and can be swapped by operators in the field in a few minutes. Sensors installed in the turret allow the operator to track stationary or moving targets without having to re-manoeuvre the air vehicle. ScanEagle has a 900 MHz UHF datalink and a 2.4 GHz S-band downlink for video transmission. Payloads include electro-optical and infrared sensors, biological and chemical sensors, laser designators, and a magnetometer for identifying and locating magnetic anomalies. The nose houses a gimballed and inertially stabilised turret, while an upgraded Block D variant houses a new sensor turret which accommodates larger cameras. It has been successfully flight-tested equipped with a short-wave infrared camera. It can also carry the Shotspotter system for sniper gun fire detection and location. ScanEagle can remain airborne for some 15 to 18 hours at distances of more than 70 miles from the mother ship, although Boeing information on their web site indicates that later designs will substantially increase these figures. Once the mission has been completed, ScanEagle returns to the ship where it is captured by Skyhook. This involves the UAV being flown directly to approach the snagging line and a hook installed in the air vehicle's wingtip is caught on the line. It is then grappled by a recovery device and lifted on board.[3]

ScanEagle contract

In 2013, Boeing Defence UK Limited was awarded a 30 million contract to supply ScanEagle to the Royal Navy. Built by Insitu[4], a subsidiary of Boeing, ScanEagle is the first maritime-specific unmanned air system capability to be delivered in support of naval operations, and is intended to complement the existing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets used on operations such as helicopters and long-range radar.[5][6]

Lossiemouth flights

The Black Hornet Nano Unmanned Air Vehicle measures around 4 inches by 1 inch (10cm x 2.5cm) and provides troops on the ground with vital situational awareness. The Black Hornet is equipped with a tiny camera which gives troops reliable full-motion video and still images. Soldiers are using it to peer around corners or over walls and other obstacles to identify any hidden dangers and the images are displayed on a handheld terminal
Black Hornet UAV
Photo: Richard Watt/MOD
Open Government Licence v1.0

The flights at Lossiemouth less rigorously described. Other than identifying the UAV type as the Black Hornet, and the purpose of the flights being for training, no further information was recorded due to the small size of the UAV being flown. The Black Hornet Nano is a military micro UAV developed by Prox Dynamics AS of Norway, and in use by the British Army. No records are required as the unit measures only 10 cm x 2.5 cm, are small enough to fit in one hand, and weigh just over half an ounce including batteries. They are equipped with a camera which provides the operator with full-motion video and still images. Black Hornet was developed as part of a 20 million contract for 160 units with Marlborough Communications Ltd.[7]


1 House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 18 July 2013 (pt 0007) Retrieved September 03, 2013.

2 ScanEagle - Naval Technology Retrieved September 04, 2013.

3 Boeing: ScanEagle Retrieved September 03, 2013.

4 ScanEagle System Insitu Retrieved September 03, 2013.

5 Royal Navy's new 'eye in the sky' - News stories - GOV.UK Retrieved September 03, 2013.

6 Royal Navy gets Eagle eyes in 30m deal for unmanned planes| Royal Navy Retrieved September 03, 2013.

7 Black Hornet spycam is a 'lifesaver' for British troops. Retrieved September 04, 2013.


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