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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK
Predator spy plane
Predator spy plane
Aircraft are only part of the Predator reconnaissance system
The curious-looking RQ-1 Predator spy plane is part of a highly sophisticated, multi-million dollar intelligence gathering and targeting system.

The fully deployed system consists of four air vehicles, a ground control station and a Predator primary satellite link, and is operated by 55 people.

It was developed in the 1990s for use in what the US describes as "moderate-risk environments" - where enemy air defences remain a threat, or in areas which may have been contaminated by chemical or biological weapons.

With its bulbous nose, the aircraft has a wingspan of 48.7 ft (14.6m), weighs 950 lbs (430 kgs) empty and 2,250 lbs (1,020 kgs) when fully equipped for reconnaissance, surveillance or target-finding missions.

Each Predator is fitted with:

  • colour nose camera - generally used by the operator for flight control
  • daylight TV camera
  • infra-red camera for poor light/night missions
  • radar to scan through smoke, clouds or haze.
Predators can remain airborne for nearly 24 hours at a time.

Cruising at up to 25,000 ft (7,500 m), the planes have a maximum speed of 140 mph (225 km/h) and a range of 454 miles.

Their relatively slow speed, however, makes them vulnerable to missiles and anti-aircraft gunfire.

Losses

Iraq says it has this year shot down two Predators over its airspace where the aircraft have seen extensive use.

In February this year the first armed Predator, fitted with a dummy anti-tank missile, was successfully tested in the US, suggesting that the planes may soon fulfil a more deadly role.

Wreckage
Iraq says it has shot down two spy planes

The 11th and 15th US Air Force reconnaissance squadrons, based at Indian Springs in Nevada currently operate the Predator system.

The RQ-1B operational model has various modifications including a turbo-charged engine and de-icing system.

In addition to its deployment over southern Iraq, Predator units also saw active service in the air campaign over Bosnia in 1995 and Kosovo in 1999.

See also:

16 Sep 01 | Americas
US prepares for war
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan - a tough military option
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