How the Predator UAV Works

Spy in the Sky
The RQ-1 uses a set of nose cameras to "see" on missions.
The RQ-1 uses a set of nose cameras to "see" on missions.
Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force

The RQ-1 is the reconnaissance version of the Predator UAV. The letter 'R' is the U.S. Defense Department signature for an aircraft designated for reconnaissance. 'Q' is a designation for unmanned or automated weapons or vehicles.

The simple and lightweight design of the Predator's fuselage allows it to carry a payload of up to 450 pounds (204 kg) in addition to the weight of its 100-gallon (378.5-liter) fuel tank. This large fuel tank and the nice gas mileage afforded by the Predator's light weight are great assets for a reconnaissance aircraft. The Predator can stay in the air monitoring enemy positions for up to 24 hours fully loaded.

The RQ-1 uses some of the most sophisticated monitoring equipment available today:

An airman cleans the lens pilots use to fly the MQ-1 Predator.
Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force
  • Full-color nose camera that the pilot uses primarily to navigate the craft
  • Variable aperture camera (similar to a traditional TV camera) that functions as the Predator's main set of "eyes"
  • Variable aperture infrared camera for low-light and night viewing
  • Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) for seeing through haze, clouds or smoke

Every camera in the plane's forward bank can produce full-motion video and still-frame radar images.

The RQ-1 can give real-time imagery of the enemy position to a command post well before the first troops or vehicles arrive. This kind of information allows field commanders to make quick and informed decisions about troop deployment, movements and enemy capabilities. Of course, the greatest advantage of using the Predator is that it has all the advantages of a traditional reconnaissance sortie without ever exposing the pilot to a hostile environment.