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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – When you think of drones, you probably think of Amazon’s delivery drones, drones flown for fun, or even News 19’s own Sky 19.

But drones can do so much more, as showcased at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium.

The BlueHalo E1250 is built in Huntsville. The drone can be used to gather weather observations or help calibrate lasers aboard Navy ships – the High Energy Laser Target Board, used to calibrate and test Naval lasers is attached to this model at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium.

BlueHalo E1250

The BlueHalo E1250 is built in Huntsville by BlueHalo (formerly Aegis Technologies). The drone has a wingspan of nearly 50 inches with two-, four-, and six-propeller configurations.

The fully American-sourced drone has a top speed of 40 mph in most daily operations, however, BlueHalo officials said it achieved 100 mph during a test flight.

The E1250 can fly for 36 minutes at just over 23 mph while carrying a five-pound object.

BlueHalo said the drone can be used in several military and non-military missions, including:

  • Fire and Rescue
  • Wildfires
  • Obtaining temperature and wind data in the higher levels of the atmosphere
  • Test targeting
  • Delievering pacakages
  • Testing equipment

One such testing mission is the High Energy Laser Target Board.

The BlueHalo project sees use in the Navy, allowing sailors to test and calibrate laser defense equipment aboard Navy ships.

The Target Board-equipped E1250 takes off, flies just over half a mile from the laser that’s being tested or calibrated, and in the case of a naval ship, follows it as it sails.

The ship targets the drone, and detectors in the target board obtain data that’s fed in real-time back to a station either on solid ground or aboard the ship.

Typically, the data is used to adjust the power of the laser, the size of the dot, or the laser’s aim.

Once the test is done, the E1250 can be landed manually or automatically.

For automatic landings, the E1250 makes a pass over the ship looking for a special QR code on the deck. Once it sees the code, the E1250 locks onto it, and lands itself.

BlueHalo said the drone managed to automatically land itself aboard a ship moving at 11.5 mph and while battling an 11.5 mph crosswind – a matching speed of 23 mph.

The BlueHalo Intense Eye Version 2 got off the ground within two months; it’s primarily used for gathering real-time weather information around wildfires and supplementing weather balloon launches.

BlueHalo Intense Eye Version 2

The BlueHalo Intense Eye Version 2 is also fully built in the U.S.

It has a top speed of 53 mph and the controller has a touch screen with a moving map display and even serves as a wifi hotspot, allowing the same data on the controller to be displayed in real-time on a laptop.

BlueHalo said development on the drone began in February 2021, and it was flying within two months.

The drone has a maximum capacity of four pounds and it’s designed primarily for weather research, but also sees use in mock drone attacks.

Company officials said in one Army test mission, 40 of the Intense Eyes were launched at the same time to simulate an enemy attack.

On the weather side, the IE-V2 and E1250 can be equipped with a weather sensor that measures temperature and provides a three-dimensional picture of the real-time wind, along with the atmospheric pressure and humidity.

BlueHalo stated the sensor could be used around wildfires and provide support to tell fire crews when they can go in and when they should pull out due to a change in wind speed or direction.

Another use BlueHalo is looking into includes supplementing data obtained from weather balloons launched by the National Weather Service (closest NWS launch sites to Huntsville include Atlanta, Birmingham, and Nashville) or universities, colleges, and private forecasting companies.

The Aethon drone is tethered to a ground control station, allowing for extended flights at heights up to 300 feet. (Photo courtesy Kratos Defense and Security)

Kratos Aethon

Kratos Defense and Security uses a drone of a different kind.

The Aethon, a six-propeller drone, is tethered to a ground control station; the tether provides power to the drone, while also provides a video feed and altitude/speed data to the operator.

The Aethon ground control station is usually powered off a generator, often from a military vehicle, allowing for extended flights at heights up to 300 feet.

The Aethon sees several uses for the military:

  • Mobile communciations – for military radios, mobile cell towers, and WiFi
  • Birds-eye view of the battlefield, detecting distances, determining friendly and enemy targets
  • Low level analysis – providing additional information about chemical hazards, biological hazards, radiation hazards, explosive hazards, and meteorological data

The Aethon is capable of carrying up to 20 lbs, with a maximum total weight of 55 lbs.

In addition, the Aethon has a parachute capable of bringing the aircraft safely to the ground if the power fails – even at its maximum weight.

The Aethon also has a stabilized, gimbal camera, which adjusts in real-time as the drone moves to keep a stable picture; many of our viewers have seen gimbal cameras in action on Sky 19.

The camera can zoom in close enough to make an object 20 feet away from the ground control station look one foot away on Aethon’s video feed.