This Is the Army's £125,000 Secret Toy Helicopter

By Chris Mills on at

For a few years, small children (and me) have had the fun of flying cheap 'n cheerful RC helicopters around, pretending to be Apache pilots, sometimes with the requisite sound effects. The Army's decided to get in on the fun, spending some £20 million on an Urgent Operational Requirement for mini-surveillance aircraft. Let's be honest though - the Army's buying ittle bittle toy helicopters.

The helicopters measure 8x3.5x2 inches -- small enough to fit in the palm of your hand -- and weighs just 16 grammes, including the camera. It flies at 22mph, out to a range of 1000m, and can even fly a pre-programmed GPS route on autopilot. It has a controllable camera that the operator can pan around, and the idea is that soldiers take it out on patrol, and use it to peer around corners or in ditches for ambushes and that sort of thing.

It's a pretty damn good idea, especially for the dense terrain of Afghanistan's 'Green Zone', where ambushes and IEDs are notorious killers. But -- and this is a big but -- the total programme cost is £20 million. Total number of units delivered? 160, which some quick back-of-the-envelope calculations means that the MoD has paid £125,000 for each little toy helicopter (plus, I assume, the base station). That's a helluva lot of money, when you consider that the Parrott AR Drone 2.0 does pretty much the same thing (in a slightly bigger package, admittedly), for £300. What do you reckon -- is it worth it, or does MoD procurement need a kick up the jacksie? []

Image credit: Defence Image Database