Text size

It's the latest wrinkle in unmanned flying espionage technology: the robot helicopter drone. Next week the Israeli company Steadicopter will be unveiling the "Black Eagle 50," its fully robotic, remotely piloted surveillance helicopter, in public for the first time.

The unveiling takes place next week at the three-day ISDEF 2009 - the 3rd Israel Defense International Army & Police Exhibition, in Tel Aviv.

Steadicopter, which is located in Yokneam, finished developing its flying spy machine over the past year. The Black Eagle 50 is based on the company's proprietary, patented autonomous flight control technology.

Although the general public will only get to see the Black Eagle 50 for the first time next week, it's no secret in the defense industry, where interested parties - potential customers, including Israeli defense officials and the police - have been allowed to view the vehicle in action.

The company refuses to say how much it will be charging for the system, in order not to shoot itself in the foot as it negotiates with potential buyers. However, sources in the defense industry surmise that a complete single system, consisting of a robot helicopter and control systems, will cost just a few million shekels.

Steadicopter says the main advantage of the helicopter system is that it can observe places inaccessible by more conventional espionage methods, such as ordinary drones. For one thing, its helicopters can take off from, and land on, just about any terrain, which isn't the case of unmanned planes.

Unlike regular UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), the robocopters don't need runways. Like regular helicopters, they can hover. They can also fly low and hover right over the target when feasible, which again a plane just can't do.

The helicopter and its control systems are designed to be transported to the launch site in a specially equipped truck.

The system can be operated by a two-person team, which activates and operates the ground control system. To send the helicopter to its target, all they have to do is mark a destination on an electronic map.

The helicopter sends live video images during flight to the ground station, and can carry sensors as well. It can fly completely autonomously, with no intervention by the ground crew, the company says.

Steadicopter was established in 1999 as an incubator company of Haifa' Technion - Israeli Institute of Technology.

ISDEF 2009 provides a direct meeting ground between defense manufacturers and clients, from procurement managers to the military and police officials who actually use the systems. More than 50 companies are expected to take part this year and some 1,500 visitors are expected to come, some from abroad, during the expo's three days.