The US Air Force is examining the feasibility of a nuclear-powered version of an unmanned aircraft. The USAF hopes that such a vehicle will be able
to "loiter" in the air for months without refuelling, striking at will when a target comes into its sights.
With a nuclear drive a Global Hawk could fly for months without landing (Image: GETTY NEWSERVICE)
But the idea is bound to raise serious concerns about the wisdom of flying radioactive material in a combat aircraft. If shot down, for instance,
would an anti-aircraft gunner in effect be detonating a dirty bomb?.......
........The AFRL now has other ideas, though. Instead of a conventional fission reactor, it is focusing on a type of power generator called a quantum
nucleonic reactor. This obtains energy by using X-rays to encourage particles in the nuclei of radioactive hafnium-178 to jump down several energy
levels, liberating energy in the form of gamma rays. A nuclear UAV would generate thrust by using the energy of these gamma rays to produce a jet of
The military interest was triggered by research published in 1999 by Carl Collins and colleagues at the University of Texas at Dallas. They found that
by shining X-rays onto certain types of hafnium they could get it to release 60 times as much energy as they put in.
Very interesting post, however, due to the environmental concerns, it is not a good idea at all... I have a feeling that it will prove to be cost
prohibitive to build such a vehical though (I am sure they wouldnt make such a decision based only on environmental concerns!)
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