Canada's new $14.1M fixed-wing drones are runway free

The Canadian government has purchased a series of five unmanned drones that come with their own launch and retrieval system, meaning they do not rely on long runways to operate.

No runway? No problem: A look at the new unmanned RQ-21A Blackjack system

The Blackjack fixed-wing unmanned aircraft system is built to operate without relying on a runway. (Insitu)

The Department of National Defence (DND) has purchased five new unmanned aircraft designed to take off, surveil an airspace and land without needing a runway.

It's an easy task for a helicopter, but tougher for a fixed-wing plane. For overhead surveillance, fixed-wing planes can usually fly higher, farther and remain airborne longer than their helicopter cousins.

But most planes need long, straight, flat spaces for both takeoff and landing, and runways are not always located where military officials need them.

In the ocean, for example.

The RQ-21A Blackjack is an unmanned system that uses a launcher and cable retrieval system.

The Canadian government has purchased one system, which includes five of the aircraft, from the United States Navy for $14.1 million, according to documents posted online earlier this week.

Earlier this year, Canada's top soldier and Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance stirred up controversy by saying the country needed weaponized drones.

The Blackjack drone is designed for surveillance purposes only, with its promotional material stating it offers "imagers, communication and signals intelligence capabilities and other tools to help give the warfighter a look ahead in all operational environments."

The aircraft can remain airborne for up to 16 hours, flying at an altitude of up to 5,900 metres, with a top speed of 166 km/h. The drone can carry up to 17 kg of equipment, including sensors, cameras and communication devices.

The system will be used primarily by the Canadian Army based out of CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick, according to a statement from DND officials.

The unmanned aerial system was designed and built by Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing.

About the Author

Brett Ruskin

Reporter/Videojournalist

Brett Ruskin is a reporter and videojournalist covering everything from local breaking news to national issues. He's based in Halifax.