Exclusive Video: Unmanned Mini-Helicopter Gets ‘Weaponized’ with AA-12 Shotgun

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by David Crane
david at defensereview.com

DefenseReview.com has received video footage of a weaponized version of the AutoCopter self-stabilized unmanned mini-helicopter being tested for the first time in sunny Huntsville, Alabama (The download link for this video is further down in this article.). The AutoCopter is made by Neural Robotics Incorporated (NRI), and the armament/weapons portion of the package is comprised of a 12-gauge Auto Assault-12 Full-Auto Shotgun (a.k.a. AA-12 Full-Auto Shotgun) made by Military Police Systems, Inc. (MPS). DefRev first reported on the AA-12 back in June of last year (2005). NRI is calling the newly-weaponized AutoCopter the "AutoCopter Gunship". Catchy.

This is a very important event. Let us explain:

First, to Defense Review’s knowledge, the basic NRI AutoCopter is currently one of the most advanced/innovative unmanned mini-helicopters in the world, and is one of the two best unmanned mini-helicopter for under $100,000 of which we are aware (Rotomotion, LLC claims they have the other one). What’s so innovative about it? Well, for starters, the AutoCopter is…

self-stabilized, using patented "intelligent" neural network-based flight control algorithms (fancy engineer-speak for "automated flight controls") to allow anyone to fly the AutoCopter with little-to-no previous remote-control (RC) piloting experience. These automated flight controls make the AutoCopter the easiest mini-unmanned helicopter to to fly, and the hardest to crash. Basically, the AutoCopter’s neural networked-based automatic flight control system won’t allow the pilot to do anything catastrophic (a.k.a. stupid).

The AutoCopter robotic mini-helicopter has two flight modes: semi-autonomous and fully autonomous. In semi-autonomous, the operator (RC pilot) is "in control" of the aircraft. We put "in control" in quotes because the real control is achieved by the AutoCopter’s computer, which interperets the operators commands and translates them into flight surface movement via servo motor activation, similar to a modern fighter jet’s fly-by-wire system. Basically, the operator tells the AutoCopter what he/she wants it to do, and the AutoCopter’s computer figures out exactly how to make that happen.

For the fully-autonomous flight mode, the AutoCopter utilizes a GPS system, where the operator uploads a flight plan to the AutoCopter via a laptop computer, using GPS waypoints. In this mode, the operator "starts the AutoCopter, engages the Flight Control System, commands the AutoCopter to take off and turns all flight operations over to the FCS." The operator can regain manual control of the AutoCopter at any time by going back to the semi-autonomous mode. If the AutoCopter flies out of RC range, it will turn around and come back within range. If it runs out of gas (it’s gasoline-powered), a parachute will automatically deploy and guide the AutoCopter back to the ground slowly and safely.

However, as cool as all this is, before the AA-12 shotgun came along and turned it into the "AutoCopter Gunship", the AutoCopter was limited to applications like aerial photography, surveillance, pipeline and utility line inspection, (unarmed) convoy escort, and mine detection–all worthwile applications to be sure, but not exactly anything "transformational" (i.e. paradigm-shifting). However, with the addition of a single AA12, the AutoCopter Gunship’s virtual pilot can not only see and photograph the enemy, he can now seek out, locate, identify, and destroy/terminate (i.e. kill) the enemy with extreme prejudice at 300 rounds-per-minute (and potentially tens of thousands of actual projectiles per minute), and he’s got a rather large 12-gauge ammunition suite at his disposal (a vertitable ammo smorgasbord, if you will) with which to accomplish this. This capability is transformational, and indeed constitutes a true paradigm shift in lethality and force multiplication, especially when you have swarms of these AutoCopter Gunships flying throughout the battlespace.

For instance, let’s say the AutoCopter Gunship’s operator spots a group of enemy insurgents/terrorists trying to gun it out with U.S. forces on an Iraqi city street, or sticking their heads out of buildings and shooting at our forces from an elevated position. He can fly the AutoCopter Gunship at them at approx. 60-mph and engage them with standard 2.75-inch 12-gauge shotgun ammo or 3-inch FRAG-12 grenade rounds (since the AA-12 is currently being modified to function with this round) at 300 RPM (rounds-per minute). Just to give the reader an idea of the kind of firepower an AA-12-equipped AutoCopter is capable of delivering on target at up to 100 yards, the AA12 shotgun can deliver aprox. 1900 .18-Cal. BBs within 4 seconds out of its 20-shot drum. With #4 shot, the operator can place approx. 3,500 projectiles on target(s). And, with #6 Hevi-Shot (made by the good folks at Environ-Metal, Inc.) the operator can accurately unload approx. 5,000 projectiles on the target(s), and kill those targets out to a distance of approx. 67 yards. If the enemy is inside a car or light-armored vehicle, the operator can fire on that vehicle with 20 armor-piercing (AP) FRAG-12 rounds (capable of penetrating up to 1/2 of rolled homogenous steel), or a combination of AP and HE (High-Explosive) rounds–and, he can engage the enemy out to 200-300 yards (according to our understanding), especially while firing from an elevated position (unconfirmed/unverified). The high-explosive (HE) FRAG-12 round will punch through a standard vehicle’s skin, and explode inside the vehicle, releasing 90 ball projectiles at very high velocity in all directions, shredding the occupants. The FRAG-12 round can also be used to engage targets inside buildings.

The AA-12 Shotgun effectively turns the AutoCopter from a unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) into an incredibly lethal unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV), or "unmanned combat armed rotorcraft (UCAR)". Previously limited to surveillance, the AutoCopter in gunship configuration can now perform "seek and destroy" missions. Previously relegated to "convoy escort", the AutoCopter can now be tasked with convoy security/force protection. This constitutes a significant leap in mission capability, and it has the potential to be a significant force multiplier in multiple combat environments, including urban warfare/MOUT environments.

Oh, and here’s the kicker: The AutoCopter Gunship UCAV/UCAR can also be outfitted with a FLIR-type forward-looking thermal/IR sight, giving the system day/night/all-weather capability, so the operator can engage the enemy in any conditions the AutoCopter can handle from a flight perspective, even in total darkness. With an AA-12-outfitted AutoCopter Gunship loaded with FRAG-12s, once the weaponized system is fully developed/realized, the enemy may be able to run, but they’re (most likely) just going to die tired. There will be very fiew places they can hide, even on a high floor inside a building.

Author’s Note: The AutoCopter Gunship you see in the photos and video is simply a first prototype that took approx. three hours to set up (mounting the weapon with solenoid trigger mechanism). NRI is planning to configure the flight computer so that it can be notified when the gun is about to fire, so the flight computer will put the AutoCopter into a very tight attitude-hold mode. So, when the weapon is fired while the AutoCopter is in hover mode, the AutoCopter will still be pushed backward, but the weapon will stay on target. NRI is reportedly in the process of developing a larger model of the AutoCopter mini-helicopter robot that can carry significantly more payload weight. Hopefully, this new larger version will be able to carry two AA-12 shotguns (each loaded with a 30-42 round drum, which MPS is in the process of developing) and a mini-FLIR targeting system (thermal/IR weapon sight). "FLIR" stands for "Forward Looking Infrared".

The AutoCopter can reportedly fly forward at 60 mph, and sideways at 35 mph, and can handle sling loads in gusting winds without any problem(s). Maximum "comfortable" payload weight for the AutoCopter is reportedly 20 pounds. Since a loaded AA-12 (wth 20-round drum mag) weighs approx. 13 lbs, that allows for approx. 7 pounds of additional payload. DefenseReview does not yet have solid numbers of the AutoCopter Gunship’s flight envelope or flight time, but we will get that information for our readers ASAP.

Downloading Instructions for AutoCopter Gunship Live-Fire Test Video:

The 27 Mb video of the AutoCopter Gunship (with AA12 12-gauge Full-Auto Shotgun) is available for download from a specially set up FTP site. Click on this link – ftp://www.neural-robotics.com. Once you do that, a window will pop up that requests a login ID and a password. The login ID is autocopter and the password is gunship. If the FTP site doesn’t load correctly the first time then simply hit the "refresh" or "go" buttons on your browser and it should load without a problem. You can copy the AutoCopter_Gunship.mpg file from the FTP window site to your desktop (You can perform a "drag and drop" or "copy" and "paste"). Again, this video (link above) is of an AutoCopter Gunship Live-Fire Test (with AA-12 Full-Auto Shotgun attached, loaded with an 8-round box mag).

Diclaimer: Although the current AutoCopter is a "Commodity Control List" (CCL) UAV, and has only been sold in this form to date, NRI does have the capability of modifying it to fit the payload needs of NRI’s customers. The video linked to above shows the NRI AutoCopter modified and weaponized with a fully-automatic shotgun. Be advised however that if the AutoCopter is modified in any way to fit a payload that is listed on the U.S. Munitions List (USML), then the entire commodity is subject to the licensing jurisdiction of the Department of State in accordance with the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (22 CFR 120 through 130).

Click here tor read the AutoCopter Product Briefing (PDF Format).

If you’d like to get more information on the AutoCopter unmanned mini-helicopter/aerial robot or AutoCopter Gunship weaponized unmanned mini-helicopter, you can contact Neural Robotics Incorporated (NRI) by phone at 256-881-6331, by fax at 256-489-6332, or by email at info@neural-robotics.com. Ask for Mike Fouche (pronounced "Fooshay").

You might want to also stop by the AutoCopter Channel, which contains an informative video about the AutoCopter.

By the way, in case you’re wondering what other autonomous mini-unmanned helicopters are out there, two of them that the Neural Robotics Inc./AutoCopter website mentions are the Yamaha RMAX (approx. $1 Million) and the Israeli Steadicopter ($125,000 estimated price), made, appropriately enough, by Steadicopter Ltd.

MPS, Inc. (Piney Flats, Tennessee) is currently involved with development of a weaponized UGV (unmanned ground vehicle) system (a.k.a. armed ground robot, a.k.a. weaponized combat bot) that utilizes double-mounted AA-12 shotguns.

If you’d like to get more information on the Auto Assault-12 Shotgun (a.k.a. AA-12 Shotgun, a.k.a. AA12 Shotgun) or the new AA-12 CQB (Close Quarters Battle) model, you can contact Military Police Systems (MPS, Inc.) by phone at 423-534-2480. Call for pricing, and ask for Jerry Baber or Randy Cates. If you get their voicemail, leave a detailed message.

Click here
to read DefRev’s original article about the MPS Auto Assault-12 (AA-12) Full-Auto 12-gauge Shotgun and FRAG-12 Grenade Round (12-Gauge), titled Auto Assault-12 Shotgun/FRAG-12 High-Explosive Round Combo/Weapon System?.

Click here to read our follow-up to that story which contains links to video clips of AA-12 live-fire demos.

And, click on this link to read about Armed Forces Journal’s (AFJ) AA-12 live-fire demo at the annual Blackwater Shoot-out in 2005. The article contains links to an entertaining video clip of the AA-12 Shotgun being demo’d that’s worth watching.

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Exclusive Video: Unmanned Mini-Helicopter Gets ‘Weaponized’ with AA-12 Shotgun by

About David Crane

David Crane started publishing online in 2001. Since that time, governments, military organizations, Special Operators (i.e. professional trigger pullers), agencies, and civilian tactical shooters the world over have come to depend on Defense Review as the authoritative source of news and information on "the latest and greatest" in the field of military defense and tactical technology and hardware, including tactical firearms, ammunition, equipment, gear, and training.

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