DND 101

Air Force

Return to
UAV Index

Return to
Air Force

Return to
Land Forces

DND 101
Site Map

Canadian Forces  Tactical UAV  —  CU-161  Sperwer  Background

Sperwer was developed to meet a late-’90s Dutch army requirement[1] for a tactical UAV. Its lineage is rather complex. The SAGEM Crécerelle[2] is its immediate ancestor but that shorter-range UAV is derived, in turn, from the MDS Banshee, a British target drone. Both earlier designs shared the delta winged form of the new CF Sperwer tactical UAV.

“... Noses must  be of  some shape or other ... ”
The CU-161 Sperwer  is fairly conventional for a modern tactical  UAV. Its airframe design has been contrained by the need to position turret- mounted sensors close to the UAV’s nose. As a result,  the Sperwer’s powerplant  is in its tail driving a 4-bladed, pusher propeller. Sperwer’s small  delta wings, angled twin tails, and simple rectangular fuselage-section all  serve  to lower the vehicle’s radar return signature.  The Sperwer airframe was also designed to be as compact –  and, therefore, portable –  as possible.

‘Moving Forward with the Agenda’  —  Sperwer’s  Motive Force
The small size of the Sperwer is quite evident in the factory view (at right). Also visible is  the starboard engine radiator  –  one of two mounted on either side of the fuselage beneath each vertical tail.  Liquid-cooling is somewhat unusual for small 2-stroke UAV powerplants but serves to reduce engine noise, making Sperwer harder to spot. This two-cylinder engine (made by Bombardier’s Austrian subsidiary, Rotax) generates 48 kW (65 hp) at 6500 rpm – an impressive output considering its tiny displacement (a mere 850ccs or 35 cu in). Still, the CU-161’s power surplus is marginal, causing concern about its ‘hot and high’ performance for Kabul.

On  Launching  the  Legless ‘Little Hawk’ Aloft
Sperwer’s pneumatic rail-launcher is carried by a 10-tonne truck. [3] Sperwer sits in a cradle which is propelled along this elevated rail to gain flying speed. Post-mission recovery is via a 117-square metre parachute – which deploys from a hatch in the upper fuselage. The landing is cushioned by airbags under each wing  as well as the fuselage.

Control Freaks  —  Small  Hawk s,  Lots  of  Information
The forward-fuselage airbag protects the CU-161’s sensor (‘orientable line-of-sight payload’ –  that’s a video camera to you and me!). This camera is mounted  in the prominent ball-turret beneath the nose.  Ground-based operators use a joystick to aim this video camera, generating live images. Alternatively, the camera can be locked onto a target while the Sperwer manoeuvers, or the CU-161 can be instructed to follow the camera’s line-of-sight.  A fixed, video camera in the CU-161’s nose gives operators a forward-looking, wide-angle view of ‘their’ flightpath.

[1] Explaining the use of Sperwer instead of Épervier for ‘Sparrow Hawk’. Since entering Dutch service, the Sperwer has been adopted by France – to replace the old Crécerelle (Kestrel) in the tactical UAV role – as well as Sweden, Denmark, Canada, and most recently, Greece.
[2] Crécerelle was a low-risk  battlefield reconnaissance platform mounted on a well-proven airframe. The French 7th Arty Regt took their Crécerelle to Macedonia (where they operated alongside CL-289s and Bundeswehr Luna).  These operational trials were successful but, showed the need for greater speed and range. Sperwer provided a ready alternative and will be replacing both the CL-289 and Crécerelle.
[3] As delivered to the CF, the Sperwer launcher (or LANS, to its makers) was mounted on a Renault Kerax six-wheeled truck. The images of CF Sperwer launches in Afghanistan all show the 10-t Renault, despite official sources saying that the LANS is mounted on an HLVW. Either the CF has yet to release images of a LANS-equipped HLVW or adapting this single launch vehicle was not seen as cost-effective .

  DND 101A Visual Guide to the Canadian Forces  2005 Edition


© Stephen Priestley 2001/2005