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FQM-151 Pointer UAV

The FQM-151 is a small unmanned aerial vehicle (SUAV) operated by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. Its primary use is battlefield surveillance. Flown by remote control or autonomously, the Pointer provides "over the hill view" reconnaissance. Its nose-mounted CCD camera is fixed in place, which suggested the UAV's name "pointer" because the craft must be pointed at a target in order to see it. Starting in 1990, the Army and Marine Corps acquired a total of 50 Pointers from AeroVironment, the manufacturer of the UAV. The Pointer has been deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

FMQ-151A Pointer UAV
FMQ-151A Pointer UAV.

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Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV): AeroVironment FQM-151 Pointer Development

AeroVironment Incorporated developed the FQM-151 Pointer for the U.S. Marine Corps in 1986. Its first flight took place in 1988. The U.S. Army took delivery of four vehicles for testing and evaluation in 1988. The Army and Marines ordered 24 vehicles and ground equipment for extended evaluation in 1989. The first of these, designated the FQM-151A, was delivered in early 1990.

The Pointer UAV was built mostly of high-impact Kevlar. Its single pusher propeller is mounted on the rear of the wing, and is driven by an electric motor powered by a lithium battery pack or Ni/Cd rechargeable battery. The rear stabilizer is mounted atop the tail, allowing for safer landings.

The Pointer UAV system consists of the aircraft and a control system, each transported in its own backpack. The Pointer is hand-launched, and recovery involves putting the UAV into a flat spin, which allows it to land vertically in tight areas. Early Pointer UAVs were controlled by an operator, but more recent variants allow for GPS-based autonomous navigation.

The Pointer carries a CCD camera in its nose. The camera has a resolution of 360 by 380 pixels, and can provide color or infrared video via radio or fiber-optic link to a ground station. A team consisting of a pilot and observer control the UAV during flight.

Flight video is recorded on an 8mm videocassette recorder. Compass headings are added digitally, and spoken comments from the flight controller can be added as well. Video playback includes normal replay, fast or slow motion, and freeze-frame capability.

The Pointer is a small UAV, similar in size of a hobbyist's sailplane or large RC plane. Intended for use in short range and short duration missions, it can remain airborne for up to 90 minutes flying at an altitude of 100 to 300 feet.

The Pointer UAV has been upgraded with GPS-INS capability for improved navigational accuracy and autonomy. The Pointer is also being replaced by the Puma, an advanced version of the Pointer, and RQ-11 Raven UAV.

FQM-151 Pointer Operational History

The FQM-151A Pointer was deployed by the Army and Marine Corps in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. There the Pointer was used to confirm that U.S. forces were adequately hidden. Later in the conflict, it provided battlefield surveillance and damage assessment.

More recently, the Pointer was deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. It has been used for light infantry Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT).

The Pointer has also been used by the Navy, in particular to monitor the Vieques training range in Puerto Rico to keep out protestors. Special Operations Command in Europe (SOCEUR) employed one system of three aircraft in Europe.

Characteristics of the FQM-151 Pointer

PayloadCCD camera with 360 x 380 resolution
EngineElectric motor powered by Li or Ni/Cd batteries
Speed46 mph
Range3 mi (90 min. flight time)
Ceiling1,000 ft.
Span9 ft.
Length6 ft.
Weight9 lbs.

FQM-151 Pointer UAV in flight
FQM-151 Pointer UAV in flight.

Recommended Books about the FQM-151 Pointer and UAVs

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