Pilots are optional for a new breed of aircraft from Boeing Defense, Space & Security in Mesa.
The aerospace giant developed its Little Bird H-6U helicopter, an unmanned aerial vehicle or drone, at its Mesa plant. The unmanned aircraft completed 14 takeoffs and landings from a ship off the Florida coast last year.
Boeing also has a partnership with Schiebel Aircraft Industries of Austria to modify a smaller unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV. That rotor aircraft, the Camcopter S-100, weighs 243 pounds and can fly for six hours carrying a 75-pound payload.
The focus for Boeing’s two UAVs has primarily been on military operations to carry cargo to the battlefield, but there is growing interest in the commercial sector.
“Boeing is looking to see where our capabilities best fit with both the military and commercial needs that are out there,” said James Brooks, Boeing director of its unmanned-helicopter programs in Mesa.
Boeing’s UAVs are just one example of the work being done in Arizona by the aerospace and defense industry.
Though much of the work is for military purposes, there is growing interest in civilian use of the technology.
In the case of the UAVs, commercial applications include monitoring wildfires, search and rescue, communication relays, border protection, agricultural uses and remote cargo delivery, Brooks said.
“Those are the dull, dirty and dangerous jobs that are difficult to perform with manned systems,” he said.