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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
Fact file: RQ-1 Predator
Predator

The curious-looking Predator is a drone spy plane - it has no on-board pilot.

It forms part of a highly sophisticated, multi-million dollar intelligence gathering and targeting system.

In total this involves four air vehicles, a ground control station and a 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 distinctive bulbous nose, the aircraft can be kitted out for reconnaissance, surveillance or target finding.

And more recently it has been equipped with Hellfire missiles, making it a remote deadly weapon.

It is flown from the ground station van by a "pilot" with a joystick and monitoring screens, including one giving the view from a colour TV camera in the aircraft's nose.

Each craft also has an infra-red camera for poor light or night missions, and radar to scan through smoke, clouds or haze.

They fly at relatively low speeds, but can stay airborne for nearly 24 hours at a time, cruising at up to 25,000 ft (7,500 m).

Their slow speed makes them vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire, however. Iraq shot down two Predators being used to enforce the "no-fly zones" and others during the war in 2003.

One was used by the CIA to kill six al-Qaeda suspects in Yemen in November 2002.

RQ-1 Predator
Crew:One remote pilot and two remote sensor operators
Main weapons:3 cameras plus radar. Can carry two Hellfire missiles plus targeting system
Length:27 feet (8.27m)
Wingspan:48.7 feet (14.8m)
Weight:1,130 pounds (512kg) empty
Range454 miles (726km)
Max Speed:135 miles per hour (216 kph)
Source: USAF






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