- FORT BENNING, Ga. -- The truth may be out there for UFO conspiracy buffs, but
here military officials admit flying saucers have taken over the skies.
- The U.S. Army has been test-flying the
CYPHER Unmanned Aerial Vehicle - a doughnut-shaped aircraft - for the past
six years at the military post just outside of Columbus.
- CYPHER uses two sets of rotating blades
that are mounted in the aircraft's center to propel the machine. Hence,
giving the aircraft its whirring sound and UFO look.
- The aircraft's design allows it to hover
over an area for as long as the fuel lasts. That capability distinguishes
it from other unmanned aircraft currently being tested, said Mike Barnes,
project director at the military post.
- CYPHER, which earned its name because
of its ability to decode underground structures and secret tunnels, was
created by Sikorsky Aircraft Inc. in Los Angeles.
- ``The uses are absolutely endless,''
said test pilot Pvt. Brent Satterfield of Fort McClellan, Ala. ``If we
had a hostage situation, we could use an infrared camera (in the CYPHER)
to find out where everyone is in the house, where the exits are, and then
we can plan out a better plan of attack.''
- The aircraft could also be used to drop
off supplies to soldiers or disburse unruly crowds without subjecting
pilots to danger, Barnes said.
- ``We take these technologies and put
them in the hands of soldiers and see if they can help them perform their
mission,'' he said. But Barnes and military officials admit, it's the
CYPHER's covert capabilities that make it even more appealing.
- Inside the CYPHER, a video camera and
a navigation computer - similar to those used in cruise missiles - would
allow the military to survey enemy territory and areas attacked by poison
gas or other hazardous bombs.
- Sikorsky, which also manufactured the
UH-1 Huey and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, also made room for a pilot
onboard the CYPHER.
- During a test flight Tuesday, Spc. Jacob
Terrell, 21, flew the CYPHER over a crowd of cardboard dummies and hovered
150 feet above the ground before releasing canisters of smoke -simulating
- ``It was just like a computer game. It's
extremely easy to fly,'' Terrell said. If Army officials in Washington
approve of the aircraft, CYPHER engineers say they can build the aircraft
in a variety of sizes - from a 40-pound model that can be carried in a
backpack to the size of a cargo helicopter. A price tag has not yet been
set and officials would not comment on the price of the prototype.
- While military officials and Columbus
police say they have yet to receive reports of UFO sightings when the CYPHER
is tested,engineers and military officials laugh at theories fueled by
the Internet and television shows, such as Fox's ``X-Files,'' that such
technology is alien in origin.
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