Building on eight years of operational performance and lessons learned on the battlefield, including in Ukraine, Teledyne FLIR Defense on Tuesday unveiled the fourth generation of its palm-size Black Hornet drone that features improved capabilities in sensor and battery performance, wind tolerance, and other key attributes.
“Black Hornet 4 is game changing capabilities,” Nils Haagenrud, senior director of UAS Programs at Teledyne FLIR Defense, told Defense Daily in a recent interview. “It’s a brand-new system” that does not compare to its predecessor Black Hornet drones, he said.
Up front, some of the key differences between the 2.5-ounce Black Hornet 4 and the Black Hornet 3, respectively, include a 10 mph top speed versus 6 mph, operating in steady winds of 25 knots versus 10, far superior electro-optical and thermal sensor resolution including detectability out to 300 meters with the EO camera versus 60 meters and 125 meters with the thermal sensor versus 20. The Black Hornet 4 also offers 35 minutes of flight time, 10 more than the Black Hornet 3, double the altitude at 20,000 feet, greater cold weather operations, two-kilometer range, and obstacle avoidance that does not exist on the Black Hornet 3.
The new nano drone is equipped with five sensors, including ultrasound that can detect glass and mirrors, and three for navigation for a 270-degree field of view, all contributing to obstacle avoidance. The system also has a backtrack capability, currently about 60 feet with plans to increase, for indoor operations.
Internal testing has shown the ability to detect an individual 350 meters away with the Black Hornet 4’s EO sensor, Haagenrud said. The Army flew the drone for more than 40 minutes in warm weather and normal wind conditions, he said.
More than 20,000 Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance Systems have been delivered to military and security forces in over 40 countries and the U.S. Army has placed nearly $220 million in orders for the single-rotor drones in the past five years.
Sensor, battery, wind, and radio wave performance are the most important attributes customers have provided about their experiences with the Black Hornet systems and “those are the things we focus on,” Dave Viens, vice president of business development in the U.S. for Teledyne FLIR Defense, said during a virtual interview last week.
The system also has a new processor to future-proof it for autonomy needs, Viens and Haagenrud said. In addition to the autonomy expertise that Teledyne FLIR Defense has gained through the acquisitions of various unmanned systems companies, Teledyne Scientific, a sister division in North Carolina, has done work for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on autonomy.
Teledyne FLIR Defense is trying to “maximize vertical integration of our own capabilities,” leveraging “a trusted supply chain” to lower costs for customers and provide a turnkey solution, Viens said.
The Black Hornet 4 can be pre-programmed to fly a mission via way points. In the near-future, the system will have the capability to automatically alert the operator when it sees a target of interest such as a main battle tank, Haagenrud said.
Teledyne FLIR Defense is part of Teledyne Technologies [TDY].