“Are you ready for that great atomic power?”—is a resounding “no,” particularly in a UAV.

Back Country Voices

Convair NB-36HIn March 2012, Sandia National Laboratories released a summary of research it had conducted with Northrop Grumman‘s unmanned systems division concerning an “ultra-persistent propulsion and power system” for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). The conclusion was that UAVs could be built with longer endurance and lower operating cost than with hydrogen or hydrocarbon fuel, creating “unmatched global capabilities to observe and preempt terrorist and weapon of mass destruction activities.” An earlier Sandia study concluded that such a UAV could be tested within a decade. It will not be, because it is nuclear-powered, and politics make it impossible. But the technical and operational case is powerful. Non-solar-powered UAVs, such as Boeing’s hydrogen-fueled Phantom Eye and Aurora Flight Sciences‘ Orion, are expected to deliver multi-day endurance. But they cannot carry large payloads or provide much electrical power, and are slow, so have to be forward-based. They are also restricted to…

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