Helicopter and Fixed Wing Drones for Retreat Security, by Long Jim

Thursday, Feb 7, 2013

I recently stopped by our local farmers market, and while ambling along with a fresh home-made fig newton, I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw what one vendor offered.

There amongst the crafts, and farm produce, was an enterprising fellow standing behind a table with a large three rotor drone helicopter. Marketed as the “Draganflyer” it has 3 dual sets of rotors stacked in pairs atop each other.

It was equipped with a gyroscope-stabilized digital video, and still camera, set-up. He was contracting with folks to fly his drone over their property and take very detailed pictures of their homes. He then sold them DVDs, or large crisp pictures suitable for framing. Which, by the way, he also offered to provide, so one could proudly display the photographs in the parlor to ones guests.

This drone was surely on par with those that the film industry uses for fly-over views in production. It was the largest one I’ve seen. The fellow was charging up to seventy-five dollars for the service, plus twenty dollars and up for big 24”x 24” or so color prints. He was so busy answering questions, and signing people up that I didn’t get a chance to ask him any technical questions, or get additional info on his setup.

The development of small drones, both fixed wing, and  rotor-craft has virtually exploded in the past few years. Companies are springing up all over offering these easy to fly platforms for film,  and surveillance, some designed for covert, as well as conventional operations. Like the many newer small arms manufacturers who, with their own input from their combat experiences, flooded the battle-rifle market niche’ with variations of M4s, and calibers such as 6.8, and  .50 caliber Beowulf, one looking for a drone to supplement their LP/OP has a lot of choices. The range of choices, thankfully, include so many options, that one on a limited budget, all the way up to a prepper who isn’t constrained by price can pick the drone that will be of best use in his particular area of operation (AO) when TSHTF.

 The U.S. military has clearly been pushing the limits, and using every new state-of-the-art technological breakthrough available in surveillance devices since we began the war on terror. Their un-manned drones have steadily gotten larger and larger, and went from being eyes-only camera platforms, to now being armed-to-the-teeth with virtually every missile that can be fixed to an aircrafts under-carriages.

Going in the opposite direction, the military now supplies ground units a variety of  hand-launched fixed wing RC aircraft on the squad level for special operators to use as they gather recon on the battlefield. Like the “Falcon UAV”. which I saw being demonstrated on a recent episode on the Military Channel. These are small, virtually indestructible, carbon composite aircraft that are easily deployed out of a pack by one or two soldiers.

Coupled with hardened military field lap-tops and satellite links, forward recon teams can collect, and pass on, an amazing amount of real-time information, inconceivable to reconnaissance units of even a few years ago.

A quick Google research trip came up with an unbelievable number of companies offering three, four, six, and even EIGHT engined rotor craft, like the  “Hexacopter”  and the “Octocopter” .

I couldn’t guess how much money and man-hours these guys used up, in trying to outdo each other by adding on engines, and other upgrades.

These companies clearly have some tech-savvy R&D guys, who have incorporated not only the gyro-stabilized mounting systems for cameras, but have utilized software that has taken the actual flight controls to another level. The copters in even the moderately priced end of the cost spectrum have auto-pilot, built-in GPS systems, and ground sensing features. The auto-pilot and ground-sensing features allow an operator to hover the craft for many minutes, with almost no effort. Some have thermal, and/or I.R. imaging systems, and even F.L.I.R. capabilities.  Most of the drones use a LiPo battery pack, and flight times, usually depend on how much extra software and systems are drawing power aside from the motors, varies, but is usually around fifteen to twenty minutes per full charge.

Some, like the Parrot Quadracopter 4 rotor RC offering, are controlled by WiFi, and a free downloadable APP allows one to use an I-pod, I-phone or other smart device to fly the copter. This device sells on the lower end of the cost spectrum, approximately $300 USD. The others mentioned in this article are upwards of $1000 USD, and more depending on features. These machines, for the most part, are way easier to control and fly than most of the run-of-the-mill hobby/toy RC mini-helicopters one sees in Wally World-type stores.

Now I know that laying out, or budgeting, an extra five hundred to a thousand dollars might be pushing it for some of us, but I firmly believe that these RC helicopters equipped with camera capabilities are well worth the investment. Imagine a scenario where you and others in your neighborhood “bug in”, and you are faced with multiple points of entry into your subdivision via roads. You’d have to have several OP/LP’s, manned by 2-3 persons, rotating on three eight hour shifts to cover each 24 hour period. Unless you had blocked off, or made impassable, most of those ingress/egress points, that’s a lot of manpower dedicated to advance warning and perimeter protection. With a single drone, or even two or more in rotation, one person could have the helicopter or fixed wing drone hover, or circle, virtually undetected, giving a 360 degree view of the entire neighborhood. That’s a big savings, in terms of manpower hours, and supplies in not having to keep the checkpoints and OP/LP’s manned every moment of every day.

For those who plan to bug out into the wilderness, or to a primary or secondary location, especially in a heavily timbered or forested area, a high-flying set of eyes seems ideal. Combined with the possibility that there is only you and your spouse and maybe children, or just another   few couples for security, I would think that the drones would be a God-send.

If you take the time to watch the flight videos, or have had the opportunity to see close-up just how quiet these things are, you will surely appreciate their quiet-running capabilities. I have seen these being operated from the distance of half a football field away, and wouldn’t have given it a minutes notice. In an “hunker-down” situation, if there’s roving bands of bad-guys, they most certainly will approach in vehicles, and then these drones are virtually silent.

The other clear benefit to employing drones to keep watch, is that even if the device is
spotted, and even engaged and disabled, it’s much better than risking losing a member of your team, or family. Machines are expendable, and replaceable, while people clearly are not.

A much better scenario would be to be sitting snuggly in a central command area equipped with CCTV monitors, powered perhaps by a genset, or re-chargeable solar/battery banks. Or even streaming into your laptop, I-phone or I-pad, regardless of your location relevant to the drones area of observation. As to the possibility of someone actually firing on, and taking out one of these drones, I would say that an adversary would have to be a pretty good shot, if not a military-grade marksman in order to hit and disable the craft. I’d also think, that with the ability to see the bad-guys from a long way off, or at least a distance, you’d have sufficient time to exfiltrate the drone if it came to maintaining OPSEC or remaining undetected. If you took the additional measure of deploying an LP/OP a distance from your main AO, then that would give those in the primary camp a good amount of fore-warning to prevent being located and overrun. 

 This brings up another point. That being  that the drones are only as good, as the users ability to keep them powered up. There are many options available to pair the drones with solar or conventional on-grid, or off-grid recharging set-ups. One can purchase extra battery packs, and along with that, extra spare replacement parts in kit form, in case of damage to the wings, rotors, frame or other hardware or software on the units.

If you follow this link from RC Helicopter Fun, the author, using a Parrot, proceeds to give a thorough tutorial for employing that specific device, while the site also answers many of the questions a beginner may have.

My plan is to pick up a couple of the less expensive multi-rotor helicopter units, along with spare batteries, and a solar charging array. I don’t know if our plan to “bug-in” in our neighborhood will suffice when TEOTWAWKI happens, or if we’ll have to go to “Plan B” and bug out in our mobile configuration, either way, having an “eye in the sky” looking out for our security regardless of the situation, is safer, easier solution for us.

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