NRL's Dragon Eye on display at the
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum


6/9/2008 - 34-08r
Contact: Public Affairs Office, (202) 767-2541


On April 24, 2008, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum debuted a new "Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles" exhibit, which showcases the Dragon Eye. The Dragon Eye, a fully autonomous, small and inexpensive, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that can be hand- or bungee- launched to provide surveillance information to field commanders, was designed, fabricated, tested with the warfighter, and transitioned to industry by a team of researchers at the Naval Research Laboratory under the leadership of the Tactical Electronic Warfare Division (TEWD), in collaboration with the U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL).

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, located in Washington, D.C., is currently showcasing six contemporary military UAVs. In addition to the Dragon Eye, the Air Force Predator, Dark Star, and X-45A, the Army Shadow 200, and the Navy Pioneer are featured. The UAVs range in capability from large vehicles that can transmit offensive weapons, to compact vehicles, such as the Dragon Eye, that is small enough to be carried in a Marine's backpack.

The UAVs are suspended above the "In Plane View: Abstractions of Flight" exhibit, which museum director Gen. J.R. Daily called a "photographic exhibition of visually intriguing elements of aircraft and spacecraft." It showcases 56 photographs taken by the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum photographer Carolyn Russo. The positioning of the Dragon Eye, and the other UAVs above the exhibit, is in an effort to "suggest parallels between technology, culture and the arts," Gen. Daily said. Also on display are the Dragon Eye's computer controls, eye goggles, a parts-and-tool kit and bungee-cord launching system.

Mr. Richard Foch, of the NRL TEWD, along with Rear Admiral Paul Gaffney, as Chief of Naval Research, first presented the concept of affordable, expendable sensor air platforms to SECNAV in April, 1999. By December of the same year, TEWD researchers demonstrated the NRL Micro Tactical Expendable (MITE) micro air vehicle in reconnaissance visual imagery mode to the Commanding General of MCWL, BGEN Timothy Donovan, who expressed much interest in the potential capability. After the demonstration, NRL researchers promptly designed a small, robust over-the-hill reconnaissance system of inexpensive UAVs, scoped to be fully auto-piloted for practical warfighter operation. In early 2000, then TEWD Superintendent, Dr. John Montgomery (NRL's current Director of Research) arranged for BGEN Donovan to be briefed on the UAV system design. At the briefing BGEN Donovan requested a proposal from NRL for the small UAV, which he envisioned as a back-packable, several-pound organic reconnaissance asset that - on the spot - he christened Dragon Eye. Within a week the NRL proposal for Dragon Eye was delivered and $4M development funding (dispersed over three years) for the NRL Dragon Eye, was committed by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and MCWL to NRL, as the SECNAV Small UAV Initiative. NRL's current Commanding Officer, Capt. Daniel Gahagan, was the first sponsor for Dragon Eye as the former Electronic Warfare Program Manager at ONR.

Dragon Eye is an affordably expendable airborne sensor platform for small unit reconnaissance and threat detection. The ONR/MCWL sponsored Dragon Eye consists of a man-portable, 5.5 lb., bungee launched air vehicle and a miniature Ground Control Station (GCS) to provide command and control and receive the aircraft's video and GPS position. The vehicle characteristics enable an operational capability in adverse weather conditions. Dragon Eye features autonomous flight capability to allow one-person operation. The endurance is 45 minutes at 35 kt airspeed using an electric propulsion system with primary lithium batteries. Interchangeable modular component payloads for Dragon Eye include daylight, low light, and infrared imaging systems. Dragon Eye has successfully transitioned to Marine Corps Systems Command production.

The Dragon Eye concept was first formally presented in the paper titled "Dragon Eye, an Airborne Sensor System for Small Units," published in 2000 in AUVSI Unmanned Systems. The Dragon Eye team authors, current and former NRLers, include: Richard Foch (principal investigator), Jill Dahlburg (co-principal investigator), James McMains (program manager), Christopher Bovais (autopilot), Steven Carruthers (airframe), Ray Cole (communications link), John Gardner (hydrodynamics simulations), James Kellogg (reconnaissance payloads), Lawrence Schuette (presently ONR's Director of Innovation, ground control), and Steven Tayman (avionics).

Following the initial TEWD-led development of the visual and infrared reconnaissance Dragon Eye for the Marine Corps, NRL researchers in the Chemistry Division under the direction of Dr. Warren Schultz developed a chem/bio detection and collection package that would also be flown on the Dragon Eye airframe. The NRL researchers developed the chem/bio package in less than nine months.

In addition to Dragon Eye, other NRL accomplishments on display at the Smithsonian include: Vanguard, the Far Ultraviolet Camera/Spectrograph (Apollo 16 mission), the GRAB satellite, and the Clementine satellite.



Get NRL News: RSS


About the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory is the Navy's full-spectrum corporate laboratory, conducting a broadly based multidisciplinary program of scientific research and advanced technological development. The Laboratory, with a total complement of approximately 2,500 personnel, is located in southwest Washington, D.C., with other major sites at the Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Monterey, Calif. NRL has served the Navy and the nation for over 90 years and continues to meet the complex technological challenges of today's world. For more information, visit the NRL homepage or join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Comment policy: We hope to receive submissions from all viewpoints, but we ask that all participants agree to the Department of Defense Social Media User Agreement. All comments are reviewed before being posted.