Cheap AP/UAV plane, a mental excercise. - RC Groups
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Apr 06, 2006, 05:33 PM
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Medve's Avatar

Cheap AP/UAV plane, a mental excercise.

Hey all,
I was reading about the Military AP/UAV plane, the Raven, and almost fell out of my chair. This is the cheapest system the govt. uses.

"A single Raven costs about $35,000 and the total system costs $250,000"

There are pictures of it

Now my challenge to us is, what is the cheapest off the shelf system we could put together that was good and reliable and fill the same needs.

electric power
45 mins.-1 hr. flight times
Range, 1-2 miles
real time video downlink
Can be dissassembled for transport.

It's got to be less than they are spending. Let's see what combinations some of you come up with. Maybe it would be a good Newbe set up too.

Happy Flying
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Apr 09, 2006, 12:43 PM
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Very interesting exercise!

Another question that you may want to ask is, what other requirements for such a system exist beyond basic performance? If I had to guess, I would say that there are requirements for encryption of both the control signal, and the video downlink and ruggedness requirements for both the plane and the ground based hardware.

Some other items that may drive the price up are the need for redundancy in the system, GPS, gyros, compass, and air data systems for feedback to the ground based crew for position data. The typical transmitter has a range of less than 1 mile, so your system would require a higher power transmitter (on top of the signal encryption requirement).

The last component of price that I am sure gets built into these systems is manpower. Companies that do work for the government inevitably develop the same bureaucratic structure. Since a system like this would be subject to export restrictions, the market would be limited, and those bloated costs must be covered somehow.

The more I type, the more I am afraid of what the outcome of a study like this would find! In theory, I would like to think this can be done cheaper, but the reality may be otherwise.

Anyone else want to chime in here? I look forward to the discussion!
Last edited by MrAero; Apr 09, 2006 at 12:52 PM.
Apr 10, 2006, 02:51 PM
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Magician's Avatar
From a modeler's perception $35,000 is a ridiculous amount of money for a small electric airplane. Trust me, I too thought they would/should be cheaper.

Early on the estimate for the Dragon Eye UAV was $5,000 per airframe. This was assuming a $2000 molded airframe ready for components, $500 for the video Tx and camera, $1,000 for the autopilot (old Micropilot), $500 for motors/gearboxes/props/controllers and $1000 labor to install components, wire everthing and do final checks. Seemed reasonable at the time.

Once the program got rolling, reality and external forces start to drive the costs. First, the $1000 Micropilot autopilot didn't work but the $6500 from another vendor worked great. There goes the budget! The $500 2.4 Ghz video system worked for initial testing but the requirement was for 5km range and on a military frequency. Suddenly the video Tx cost $2500 each. Can you sense the downhill slide? Plus the dual cameras needed a video switcher, a power supply needed to be designed and built to take the 24V from the only battery to provide 12v and 5v for the avionics. More parts and fab that wasn't accounted for initially. And finally, the $1000 labor was wishful thinking, turns out people who don't do this for a hobby need to make a reasonable salary and the company needs to make a profit. So, the $5000 estimate turned into a $25000 complete, commercially available, fully autonomous, small electric UAV.

While it may seem expensive, the end products are very rugged, reliable and easy to operate for the warfighter out on the front lines.

Just my 2,000,000 cents!

Apr 11, 2006, 11:51 AM
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It is all dependent on the payload of the plane...Do you have a weight?
Apr 11, 2006, 01:53 PM
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Then throw an IR camera into there... That will make price skyrocket...
Apr 12, 2006, 05:12 PM
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Medve's Avatar
The reason I chose this plane to look at, was that it is primarily used for flying around the base to keep an eye on the perimeter, and flying a little ahead of ground troops is cities.
I think one mile might even be plenty range. The guy I saw a picture of flying it, was holding what looked to be a pretty standard TX, and flying with night vision goggles.
I know if there are IR cameras and such on board, the price will shoot up. There was no mention in either article of autonomous capability. It looked like it was just an AP plane with some nicer cameras. Yeah, encryption might be an added cost, if the system has it. But for bare bones photo AP, it looks like a decent 2M electric glider with wings that come appart could be a good start. Heck, you could even have clip on , clip off camera and radio gear packages, and a dozen Slow Stick kits. I have a Groupner Tippsy that I just put a small pinhole camer in, just to see how it would work.
We'll see. The other interesting thing I saw on line somewhere, is a mortar round that had a camera in it, would pop a parachute, and transmit the video down real time.
Kinda clever.
Apr 12, 2006, 08:28 PM
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We are doing all those things! Check out RPFlightSystems and see what you think. POV flight out to one mile is a piece o' cake! Our entire system is considerably less than the $35K for the Raven alone.

Last edited by CenTexFlyer; Apr 12, 2006 at 08:36 PM.
Apr 12, 2006, 10:03 PM
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Steve McBride's Avatar
If all you want is 1-2 mile video range and 45 min to an hour flight, then that is easy to do for less than $500 plus video.

If you want wireless modems and a GPS for realtime moving maps, add around $300.00

Add an FMA co-pilot for $100.00 and you have a decent system with 1 mile range, live video and live GPS tracking for less than $1000.00 not including the camera, notebook PC and support gear that you probably already have.

Apr 13, 2006, 07:59 PM
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Medve's Avatar
I know you guys were working on these, even had them ready to help after Katrina, but were somehow never invited to play. Has that changed? I sure hope so. You guys make some of the best stuff, and it's relatively dirt cheap compared to the current issue ones.
There really is nothing like a delta wing, is there.
Apr 13, 2006, 11:09 PM
Registered User
hehehe.. yeah.... we kinda like the swept wings.....

We are doing much more in the search and recovery field. We have been working with Texas Equusearch (heard of Natalie Holloway/Aruba?) and have done some really good work with them. We've been to Georgia, Miss, Jamaica, and all over Texas searching for missing people. The word is getting out, and we are getting better and better at reading aerial photos for "targets" too! We have helped several families reach closure with missing loved ones..... that kind of stuff is priceless.

Apr 14, 2006, 10:57 AM
Registered User
Looking closer into the Raven, the price doesn't seem too far out there. From

The RQ-11A Raven, the choice of the U.S. Army, is the latest generation and most advanced SUAV deployed with U.S Armed Forces. With a wingspan of 4.5 feet and a weight of 4.2 pounds, the hand-launched Raven provides aerial observation at line-of-sight ranges up to 10 kilometers. The Ravens advanced avionics enable autonomous flight and precise GPS navigation.

The system can be flown manually or autonomously through set way- points with options of either a daylight or infrared camera, allowing both day and night operations. The Raven is equipped with sophisticated communication systems transferring imagery in real time to ground control and remote viewing stations.
Two good IR cameras (front/side) alone will cover a fair chunk of your 35k budget.
Apr 17, 2006, 10:27 AM
Hey Steve, can you elaborate a little on your idea of an UAV going cheap. Im looking for an AP system for studying crop analysis in southern Spain. Im waiting for news from and RPFlightsystems regarding their products.

What sort of aircraft and accessories are you refering too.


Apr 17, 2006, 01:31 PM
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Steve McBride's Avatar

The cheap UAV system I mentioned would be something just able to be used as a short range video observation system. Nothing really capable more than just going up to take a look in relatively low resolution. More fun than capable.

Something like you are interested in I'll leave to the experts here. Come up with a list of what you need a UAV to do and the guys here will be very helpful. I'm at a loss as to what specifically you need in crop analysis.

Apr 18, 2006, 08:34 PM
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Medve's Avatar
CTF, can you elaborate why you guys went with the more standard tail on your non flying wing plane, rather than with an inverted "V" tail? Was it simplicity, structural strength, or better performance? Also, how do you hold the wing pannels together when it is ready to fly?
Apr 19, 2006, 11:32 PM
Registered User
Here are some numbers:

1.7 GHZ 3 watt video downlink with data sideband (much more expensive then 2.4 ghz): $2-$4k
400 mhz military band uplink rx : another $1000 atleast
inhouse autopilot with P code (encyrpted GPS) $10k
Solid Kevlar airplane (the Raven is very robust) ????
forward look IR pod $10k
side look IR pod $10k
daylight camera pod with forward/side look: $500

When you throw in sustainment and all supporting hardware, things start to add up pretty quick

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