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'Angry Bird' Knocks Down Ultralight


U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory teams recently tested devices intended to nonlethally bring down ultralight aircraft used for drug smuggling along the U.S.-Mexico border. First was the “Angry Bird,” a projectile weapon fired from an M4 rifle with a range of 1,000 feet that deploys a net which entangles the propeller. Second, a small remote-piloted vehicle, guided with onboard cameras, rams into the propeller, breaking it and stopping the engine.

The tests were conducted at Edwards Air Force Base according to a November 8, 2011, report on Ares, a defense technology blog at Aviation Week. A total of six actual unmanned single seat ultralights (including Quicksilvers and a trike) were modified by Brock Technologies of Tucson, Arizona, over a period of five months to be flown as remote-piloted vehicles and used as targets for the tests. Initial flight tests of the converted ultralights were conducted at a restricted airspace flight test range in Arizona. Brock Technologies Inc. specializes in unmanned aerial and ground systems, sensors, custom composites, field support equipment, and software.

Details of the tests weren’t revealed except to say that they both worked, and it is expected that elements of both systems are to be incorporated in a subsequent effort to produce a testable prototype for border control agents in the coming months. Since the “Angry Bird” projectile weapon can be fired from the ground or the air, one can envision a remote-piloted vehicle with onboard cameras that can launch a net instead of doing a suicide dive into the propeller. If effective, ultralight pilots might want to avoid wandering into presidential TFRs or other restricted airspace without a radio.

Every year, hundreds of ultralight aircraft are flown across the southern border attempting to smuggle drugs into the United States, and news reports have suggested that Mexican organized crime groups are increasingly using ultralights to drop marijuana bundles in agricultural fields and desert scrub across the U.S. border and return to Mexico without landing. Light Plane World first reported on this problem in the June 2010 issue. Read the story “F-16s Intercept Ultralight.”

On November 22, 2011, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced a bipartisan amendment to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act to help improve border security by cracking down on smugglers who use ultralight aircraft for bringing drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border. This is the same bill previously introduced in the House by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) that overwhelmingly passed with bipartisan support. The amendment would close a loophole in the current law that makes smuggling by ultralight a lesser crime than smuggling by an airplane or automobile.


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