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Mon Feb 4, 2013, 05:48 PM


Palm-Sized Nano-Copter Is the Afghanistan War’s Latest Spy Drone

British Army Sgt. Scott Weaver of the Queens Royal Lancers launches one of the world’s smallest drones from a compound in Afghanistan. Photo: U.K. Ministry of Defence

By Spencer Ackerman
02.04.13 12:00 PM

British troops in Afghanistan are flying a drone that’s shrunk down to its essentials: a micro-machine that spies, built for a solitary user.

This is the Black Hornet. Its Norwegian manufacturer, Prox Dynamics, bills it as the world’s smallest military-grade spy drone, with a weight of 16 grams and a length of 4 inches. Propelled by two helicopter blades, the Black Hornet carries little more than a steerable camera that records still and video imagery. (That is: It’s unarmed.) Now British soldiers have brought it to Afghanistan, as it fits in the palms of their hands. It’s supposed to be a drone for an Army of One.

“We use it to look for insurgent firing points and check out exposed areas of the ground before crossing, which is a real asset,” Sgt. Christopher Petherbridge of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force told the British Ministry of Defence for a Monday announcement.

The fruit of a contract initially worth $4 million that the Ministry of Defence inked in 2011, the Black Hornet is a major step in the recent trend of miniaturizing drones. The U.S. has its own shrunken spy drones: The Raven can be launched by hand; the collapsible Switchblade fits in a rucksack; and on deck is the insect-inspired miniatures at the Air Force’s “Micro-Aviary.” But it’s currently got nothing as petite as the Black Hornet — although the Ministry of Defence is confident the nano-copter is rugged enough to withstand Afghanistan’s harsh conditions.


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