January 16, 2011
By Owen Bowcott and Paul Lewis
Unmanned aircraft are now a vital tool in war zones, but our skies could soon be buzzing with spy planes that feed information back to the police – and even the paparazzi
There is a second-and-a-half delay between the RAF operator pressing his button and the Hellfire rocket erupting from the aircraft he is controlling, circling in the sky above Afghanistan.
That’s a long time in modern warfare, but the plane is an unmanned “drone” and its two-strong crew are 8,000 miles away at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. Right now, the Reaper is being commanded from a console with twin video screens shaped to resemble a plane’s cockpit.
The UK has five Reapers like this one operating in Afghanistan. With a wingspan of 66ft, they are 36ft long, reach a top speed of 250 knots and usually carry four Hellfire rockets and two laser-guided bombs.