by Randy Roughton source: Armed with Science Oct 4, 2011
Hummingbird drones fly at 11 mph and can perch on windowsills. The 3-foot-long Raven can be tossed into the air like a model airplane to spy over the next hill in Afghanistan. The Air Force’s new Gorgon Stare aerial drone sensor technology can capture live video of an entire city. From the RQ-4 Global Hawk and MQ-1 Predator to considerably smaller aerial drones in recent years, the Air Force has experienced an unmanned aircraft revolution in the decade since Sept. 11, 2001.
Long before 9/11, former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper, then U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander, envisioned giving unmanned aerial vehicles offensive capability that would allow immediate action when their surveillance cameras spotted high-value targets. In 1999, RQ-1 Predators flew over Kosovo 24 hours per day in surveillance of hostile forces.
Almost seven months before 9/11, a Predator successfully fired a Hellfire missile in flight near Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The same Predator was among the first three UAVs to deploy overseas on Sept. 12, 2001. By the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005, Jumper told Congress he wanted to buy every Predator the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in San Diego could build, and the Air Force announced it would buy 144 Predators and increase the squadrons of robotic spy planes from three to 12 in the next five years.