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AQUILINE RPV (CIA)

quellish

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AQUILINE was a CIA project to develop a low-flying surveillance RPV in the late 60s/early 70s.

From "Air Force UAVs The Secret History":

"The CIA developed a few UAVs through the Directorate of Science and Technology’s Office of Development and Engineering rather than through the NRO. The first was a stealthy propeller-driven, low altitude, anhedral-tailed UAV called Aquiline and designed for low-level electronic surveillance of the Chinese nuclear program. Aquiline was designed by McDonnell Douglas in the late 1960s and advanced to flight testing, but never saw operational use due to reliability problems. The aircraft was to be controlled by data link from a high-flying U-2. Jeffrey T. Richelson interview, Oct. 23, 1999; Sherwin Arculis interview, Feb. 21, 1999. For an upside-down picture of Aquiline (the McDonnell-Douglas Mark II), see Kent Kresa and William F. Kirlin, “The Mini-RPV: Big Potential, Small Cost,” Aeronautics and Astronautics, September 1974: 61."
http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf&AD=ADA526045

AQUILINE had a 6-foot wingspan and was made to actually look like a bird. It was to follow power and communication lines and record data leaking out of them (sort of a flying IVY BELLS). The program was flight tested at Groom Lake between July 1970 and late 1971.
http://www.dreamlandresort.com/area51/dreamland_timeline.html

John Meierdierck was in charge of the CIA side of the program, and provides the best account of it here (including the attached photos of a model):
http://roadrunnersinternationale.com/meierdierck/flying.html#43
Well worth reading.
 

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Antonio

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wow, thanks for that. Looks like a Batman gadget!
 

Stargazer2006

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Fascinating program. I have found a Model 259 dated 1970 described as a "small, inexpensive, non-expendable remotely piloted aircraft". This could very well be it (only thing is, it is given as a USAF, not CIA program, but I guess the CIA was never mentioned as a direct contractor, anyway, and used the USAF as a go-between, like they did on ISINGLASS).
 

Mr London 24/7

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http://www.ainonline.com/news/single-news-page/article/ain-blog-uavs-fly-as-feathered-friends-over-unfriendly-territory-31031/

I made subsequent inquiries about Project Aquiline of three former CIA managers. Their recollections differed in some respects from Hank’s account.
As far as I can tell, the rail-launched “bird,” powered by a converted lawn-mower engine driving a pusher prop, was designed to fly between 500 and 1,000 feet for up to 3,000 miles on about 100 pounds of fuel. A video camera in the nose would periodically relay an image of the terrain below via a high-flying U-2 or a communications satellite to a control station where an operator compared it with pre-acquired satellite imagery, and kept the bird on course. The main sensor was a 35mm camera, whose “take” would be recovered after the UAV had returned to friendly territory, and been flown into a net.
 

Grey Havoc

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Two separate variants in two separate program compartments?
 

Mr London 24/7

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AQUILINE is also covered briefy here (document release of previously redacted Appendix E, 2013):

1968 tests on an AQUILINE prototype at Randsburg Wash on the US Navy's Naval Ordnance Test Station at China Lake, California, showed that the aircraft was extremely difficult to see. To assist pilots of chase aircraft in keeping AQUILINE in sight its entire upper surface was painted bright orange: even so, sighting remained difficult. The testing process was very hard on AQUILINE because it was recovered by flying it into a net close to the ground, which almost always caused some damage to the wings or propeller. As a result one or more of the aircraft was always being repaired and eventually three of the five AQUILINE prototypes were destroyed in testing.
Chris Pocock offers a brief summary here:
AQUILINE: This project has previously surfaced in a couple of open source accounts, and in four interviews that I have conducted. In 2011, I described most of what I knew about it here:http://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/blogs/ain-blog-uavs-fly-feathered-friends-over-unfriendlyterritory
New detail from W/P includes: ORD began work on it in 1965 with Frank Briglia as project manager. Douglas Aircraft received four contracts 1965-69. 8.5 foot wingspan, 105 lbs weight. McCullough 3.5hp two-cycle engine. Photo of the UAV in flight (it looks exactly like the scale model that I saw and photographed) 3.5 lines still redacted. Flight tests of prototype at China Lake in 1968. Three of five prototypes were destroyed in testing. Two paras still redacted – perhaps describing the projected operational missions.
OSA took over the project for operational testing. Range was 130 miles. “it obtained very high resolution photography” – no mention by W/P of the SIGINT mission that is described in one open source (and which I doubt). Although flight tests were “successful” it was not deemed practical or affordable (another $35 million and two-to-three years needed, per W/P – this differs from the open source accounts).
Cancelled by DDST Carl Ducket on 1 November 1971. Less than one line still redacted
 

Stargazer2006

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Good stuff! Thanks for sharing.
 

Mr London 24/7

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But why link The Aviationist, my Dear Sublight, when we have our very own Thread right here?:


http://www.secretprojects.co.uk/forum/index.php/topic,13468.0.html


Check the dates between the two.... I know which ref I'd rather use ;)
 

Wembley

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So what do people make of the recent bird-drone crash in Somalia?

The two-propeller design looks very familiar, but I have never heard of anything like the dummy flapping wings

http://www.theverge.com/2016/7/14/12187562/drone-bird-crash-landing-somalia-military
 

Mr London 24/7

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See http://www.secretprojects.co.uk/forum/index.php/topic,13468.0.html
 

Archibald

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Did you liked
The Men Who Stare at Goats ?
You will enjoy the sequel...

"The CIA that faked bird of preys into drones, to spy the chinese".

O RLY ?

I mean, D-21B and Ryan stealth drones were pretty amazing, and then... THIS.

Geez, in the 60's the CIA had very creative engineers. Must be the same guys who mused about explosive cigars for Castro or poisoned LSD food to turn him and Khomeini into stoned wrecks before a speech. Or alternatively, of making them lose their beards - and credibility - altogether.

Crazy whacky evil CIA !
 
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VTOLicious

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CIA declassifies Project Aquiline
Posted on July 31, 2020


"Prime contractor was McDonnell Douglas and the vehicle’s dimensions are 5ft length with a wing span of 7.5ft. Powered by a silent engine with 3 1/3 horsepower, the mechanical bird has an endurance of at least 50 hours and a range of 1200 miles."

Seriously? 50h of endurance for such a small vehicle with a low aspect ratio wing!?
 

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AeroFranz

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Agree, seems like a lot...especially if it's carrying any kind of sensor payload. Sensors were heavy back in the day.
 

TomS

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CIA declassifies Project Aquiline
Posted on July 31, 2020


"Prime contractor was McDonnell Douglas and the vehicle’s dimensions are 5ft length with a wing span of 7.5ft. Powered by a silent engine with 3 1/3 horsepower, the mechanical bird has an endurance of at least 50 hours and a range of 1200 miles."

Seriously? 50h of endurance for such a small vehicle with a low aspect ratio wing!?
I think the CIA is using a really weird definition of wingspan. Look a the diagram on page 5 here: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/PROJECT AQUILINE RESEARCH[15784058].pdf

That version supposedly has a length of 4.75 feet and a "wingspan" of 6 feet. But to my eye, each wing alone is slightly longer than the body. I suspect they are using "wingpspan" incorrectly to refer to the length of each wing.

Also, the document refers to AQUILINE as a powered glider, which suggests that they planned to turn the motor off for extended periods and let it soar.
 

VTOLicious

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Elbit's Skylark 3 is very similar in its configuration. Considering it is electrically powered, the advertised 5h of endurance most likely include periods of gliding as well..
However, is it reasonable to claim the endurance could be increased to 50h with an internal combustion engine installed?

View: https://youtu.be/eVJbHMoa7hA
 

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VTOLicious

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CIA declassifies Project Aquiline
Posted on July 31, 2020


"Prime contractor was McDonnell Douglas and the vehicle’s dimensions are 5ft length with a wing span of 7.5ft. Powered by a silent engine with 3 1/3 horsepower, the mechanical bird has an endurance of at least 50 hours and a range of 1200 miles."

Seriously? 50h of endurance for such a small vehicle with a low aspect ratio wing!?
I think the CIA is using a really weird definition of wingspan. Look a the diagram on page 5 here: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/PROJECT AQUILINE RESEARCH[15784058].pdf

But to my eye, each wing alone is slightly longer than the body. I suspect they are using "wingpspan" incorrectly to refer to the length of each wing.
I would think the term wingspan is very well defined and it's very unlikely that it was used in another way as it is supposed to be.
 

TomS

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I would think the term wingspan is very well defined and it's very unlikely that it was used in another way as it is supposed to be.
I know, but that model really looks quite a bit wider than the numbers suggest. Possibly the length is exaggerated by the very narrow tail profile. In any event, it does seem to have a very glider-like wing profile.

That same report goes into some detail about the weight of various sensors. They were looking at surprisingly light electronics for the era.
 

Trident

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Looking at the Israeli Orbiter/Skylark/BirdEye families (some among which are IC-powered, others electric) and the Russian Orlan-10, the endurance multiplier between propulsion concepts - attempting to account for payload weight where possible - nowadays seems to be 3x to 4x. So *fifteen* hours would be credible, but colour me skeptical regarding fifty.
 

AeroFranz

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The problem with gliding is that at some point you need to climb back up to the original altitude...spending power in doing so. I think the glide/climb energy consumption is greater than flying level.
Another thing to note is that an internal combustion engine (especially a 1970s one) may not like being turned on/off often. An electric powerplant might do better in that regard. In both cases you would probably want a folding prop to avoid windmilling, which would kill your L/D.
 

Trident

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You could of course take advantage of thermals, but quite how a remotely piloted or even autonomous vehicle is supposed to accomplish that beats me. Probably too restrictive on operations (what if there are no thermals near the area of interest, or weather conditions simply won't cooperate when you need to fly?), too.
 

galgot

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Maybe with an AI that would detect when to glide and when to start the motor. Would work a bit like an electric powered glider, in which the pilot only fires the motor to keep level flight when there is no thermals . With an high lift/drag ratio as a glider, it needs very small power.
Was thinking about that when posting the SunFlight Gliders thread. Solar panels would be a good solution to recharge some small batteries needed for the systems, and for when there is not enough sun light.
The way it would circle in thermals would make it even more bird like. Would be like an autonomous fake buzzard.
 

AeroFranz

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IIRC, what you're describing is just now about possible, in the rough size of vehicle considered here. But yeah, the mission computer and programming necessary to enact these soaring strategies have become available only within the last few years. I have seen a bunch of AIAA papers on the topic and even know of a few flight demos, so an operational system could be done (already exists? :D ). Besides the control problem, it also helps being able to take advantage of lighter airframes and MUCH much better electric propulsion systems that have evolved since the 70s.
 

galgot

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IIRC, what you're describing is just now about possible, in the rough size of vehicle considered here. But yeah, the mission computer and programming necessary to enact these soaring strategies have become available only within the last few years. I have seen a bunch of AIAA papers on the topic and even know of a few flight demos, so an operational system could be done (already exists? :D ). Besides the control problem, it also helps being able to take advantage of lighter airframes and MUCH much better electric propulsion systems that have evolved since the 70s.
Yes would only be only feasible with nowadays progress in Ai and such. This kind of equipment would be perfectly suited for environment like in Africa , or Middle East , where buzzards circling above are quite common (plus the weather). Wonder what would be the reaction of real buzzards having to share a thermal with that kind of thing.
Mmmh Buzzard fighting Buzzard robot...
 

TomS

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Maybe with an AI
This was late 1960s here, so AI isn't really an option. They were also talking remote control for some uses, though, so possibly a remote operator could figure out places where updrafts were likely and steer the vehicle that way, etc.

Reading through the documentation, 50 hours was a long-term goal with a fairly advanced IC engine. The AV seems to have had a speed around 50 mph (based on one unredacted range/endurance pair, so not definitive). The immediate goal with a 2-stroke engine was 600 miles, which is about 12 hours at 50 mph. With a simple 4-stroke engine, they proposed 1200 miles, or about 24 hours. The advanced 4-stroke design was supposed to reach 2400 miles, or about 48-50 hours.

The crazy idea was that they also hypothesized about radioisotope engines, which potentially offered nearly unlimited range. They also mention fuel cell engines, but don't give any range figures for that option.
 

RLBH

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Wonder what would be the reaction of real buzzards having to share a thermal with that kind of thing.
Mmmh Buzzard fighting Buzzard robot...
Don't know about buzzards, but there have been attempts to use a drone fish to swim in a school with real fish in order to study them more closely.
 

Archibald

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Maybe with an AI
This was late 1960s here, so AI isn't really an option. They were also talking remote control for some uses, though, so possibly a remote operator could figure out places where updrafts were likely and steer the vehicle that way, etc.

Reading through the documentation, 50 hours was a long-term goal with a fairly advanced IC engine. The AV seems to have had a speed around 50 mph (based on one unredacted range/endurance pair, so not definitive). The immediate goal with a 2-stroke engine was 600 miles, which is about 12 hours at 50 mph. With a simple 4-stroke engine, they proposed 1200 miles, or about 24 hours. The advanced 4-stroke design was supposed to reach 2400 miles, or about 48-50 hours.

The crazy idea was that they also hypothesized about radioisotope engines, which potentially offered nearly unlimited range. They also mention fuel cell engines, but don't give any range figures for that option.
HAL strongly disagree with that statement.

"Aquiline. Get down and handle us the film and pictures.
"I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that..."

More seriously: I think they hoped to spy Lop Nur chinese nuclear testing range, as already done with U-2s from India, D-21B (partially failed) and (it never happened) AQM-91 stealth drones. I think Aquiline was part of that enchilada (will try to check to confirm that).
 

BESTUZHEV

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