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Egyptian Mummy’s Face Recreated with 3D Printing


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Egyptian Mummy’s Face Recreated with 3D Printing

Egyptian Mummy's Face Recreated with 3D Printing

Researchers created a 3D-printed replica of the skull from an Egyptian mummy.

Credit: Varsha Pilbrow and Gavan Mitchell, University of Melbourne

An Egyptian mummy’s head and face have been reconstructed with forensic science and 3D printing, offering scientists a tantalizing glimpse of the individual’s life and death.

The mummified head was discovered by accident in the collections of the University of Melbourne in Australia. A museum curator happened upon the remains during an audit and, concerned about the state of the specimen, sent it for a computed tomography(CT) scan.

“Turns out, [the skull] is actually quite intact; it has got bandages and looks well on the inside,” said Varsha Pilbrow, a biological anthropologist in the University of Melbourne’s Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience. “Of course, that then allowed us to think what to do next.” [In Photos: Egypt’s Oldest Mummy Wrappings]

With the help of an imaging specialist, Pilbrow and her team used the scans to create a 3D-printed replica of the mummy’s skull. Then, the scientists studied the specimen’s facial-bone features, such as the size and angle of the jaw and characteristics of the eye sockets, to determine that the head belonged to a female. The researchers are calling the specimen Meritamun. They say she was probably not more than 25 years old at the time of her death and was important enough to be mummified.

“It is quite fascinating that we did all of this without destroying the specimen in any way, and that is important from a museum curatorial point of view,” Pilbrow said.

The true origins of the mummified head are still unknown, though. Scientists think it belonged in the collections of Frederic Wood Jones, a professor who conducted archeological work in Egypt before joining as the head of anatomy at the University of Melbourne in 1930. From the distinctive style of the linen bandaging and embalming of the specimen, the researchers think Meritamun was mummified in Egypt and that she may have lived at least 2,000 years ago. They will now use radiocarbon dating to date the specimen more precisely, the scientists said.

Meanwhile, the CT scans and 3D-printed replica of the skull are revealing other details about Meritamun, including her dental abnormalities and diseases she might have had.

“We noticed that the top of her skull is very thin. It is extremely porous,” Pilbrow told Live Science. “It suggests that she would have suffered from severe anemia.”

A deficiency of hemoglobin and oxygen would have led to the swelling of bone marrow — as it tried to produce more red blood cells — and thinning of the skull bone, Pilbrow said.

“Anemia and dental pathologies were quite prevalent among Egyptian populations,” Pilbrow said.This provides just one possible clue about how Meritamun died, but Pilbrow and her co-workers are continuing to dig into other factors that may have cost the young woman her life.

The research has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Original article on Live Science.

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Facts About Germanium


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Facts About Germanium

 http://www.livescience.com/29520-germanium.html
Germanium is a silvery white metalloid. This is a 2-by-3 centimeter piece of polycrystalline germanium, weighing about 12 grams.

Credit: Jurii/Creative Commons

Shiny and silvery, yet very brittle, germanium is an important component in semiconductors and fiber optics. Some people think germanium supplements have health benefits, but research has not supported those claims.

  • Atomic number (number of protons in the nucleus): 32
  • Atomic symbol (on the periodic table of elements): Ge
  • Atomic weight (average mass of the atom): 72.630
  • Density: 3.077 ounces per cubic inch (5.323 grams per cubic cm)
  • Phase at room temperature: solid
  • Melting point: 1,720.9 degrees Fahrenheit (938.3 degrees Celsius)
  • Boiling point: 5,131 F (2,833 C)
  • Number of natural isotopes (atoms of the same element with a different number of neutrons): 5. There are also 19 artificial isotopes created in a lab.
  • Most common isotopes: Ge-74 (36.28 percent of natural abundance), Ge-72 (27.54 percent of natural abundance), Ge-79 (20.84 percent of natural abundance), Ge-73 (7.73 percent of natural abundance), Ge-76 (7.61 percent of natural abundance)

The existence of germanium was predicted by Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869, after he developed the periodic table of elements, according to Chemistry Explained. Arranging the elements by atomic weight left some gaps in the table. Mendeleev theorized that there were several elements yet to be discovered, including element No. 32. In 1885, Clemens Winkler, a German chemist, discovered what was then referred to as “eka-silicon” in an ore known as argyrodite. The ore contained silver, sulfur, iron oxide, and zinc with about 7 percent of the unknown metal.

According to Chemistry Explained, Mendeleev had predicted that element 32 would have a density of 5.5 grams per cubic centimeter (5.5 times the density of water) and atomic weight of 70 (a little less than four times the atomic weight of water): very close to the actual density (5.323 grams per cubic centimeter) and atomic weight (72.630) of germanium. The accuracy of Mendeleev’s prediction increased chemists’ confidence in the periodic table.

Electron configuration and elemental properties of germanium.

Electron configuration and elemental properties of germanium.

Credit: Greg Robson/Creative Commons, Andrei Marincas Shutterstock

  • Germanium is metalloid, which means it has properties of both metals and nonmetals. Other metalloids on the periodic table are boron, silicon, arsenic, antimony, tellurium, and polonium, according to the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
  • Germanium is one of the few elements that expand when it freezes, like water does, according to Chemicool. Others include gallium, silicon, bismuth and antimony.
  • The name “germanium” comes from the Latin name for Germany, named for Winkler’s home country, according to the Jefferson Lab.
  • According to Chemicool, the abundance of germanium in the Earth’s crust is about 1.5 parts per million by weight, and the abundance in the solar system is about 200 parts per billion by weight.
  • Germanium’s value was recognized during World War II, according toEmily Darby, a chemistry student at Harvey Mudd College, when it was used in high-resolution radar receivers. The first germanium transistor was invented shortly afterward.
  • According to the U.S. Geological Survey, approximate percentages of the uses of germanium are: 30 percent for infrared (IR) optics, including detectors; 20 percent fiber optics used in communications; 20 percent polyethylene terephthalate used in a variety of products such as cloth fibers, food containers, and resins; 15 percent for electronics and solar cells for solar panels; and 5 percent for phosphors, metallurgy, and organics including medications.
  • Germanium is primarily mined with zinc ore as well as with argyrodite, germanite, and coal according to the Los Alamos National Laboratory. According to Chemistry Explained, germanium is mined in Alaska, Tennessee, China, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Russia and Belgium.

There have been claims that germanium may be beneficial for health, including improving the immune system, oxygen supply in the body, and destroying free radicals. According to Healthline, germanium has also been considered to be beneficial in treating allergies, asthma, arthritis, HIV/AIDS and various forms of cancer.

There is, however, little to no scientific support of these claims, and using germanium supplements or medications can lead to many side effects, including kidney damage, anemia, muscle weakness and lack of coordination, and elevated liver enzymes, according to Healthline.

In experiments, a derivative of germanium called spirogermanium has been shown to inhibit replication in certain cancer cells, but human studies show it has adverse effects and is not suitable as an anticancer treatment, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Germanium is commonly used in detectors in a variety of fields, according to a study published in Applied Physics Letters in 2016. The study discusses the high efficiency of germanium photodetectors when used in the visible and near infrared spectra of light. The germanium detectors were compared to conventional silicon based photodetectors and, according to the authors, had better signal to noise ratio and responses near the ends of the spectral range of light able to be observed with the detectors.

Germanium was tested for use in photodetectors due to its smallbandgap, or the easier ability for electrons to jump to a higher energy state, which is common in semiconductor metals. These photoconductors are used in many types of technologies that are used in our everyday lives such as television remote controls, automatically opening doors common at large stores, and fiberoptic communication systems as well as many scientific uses in astronomy, laboratory research, and environmental monitoring according to LaserFocusWorld. With increased efficiency due to the higher absorption of germanium in photodetectors versus traditional materials such as silicon, more and better information can be received in the target wavelength.

Additional resources

Jewish avengers unapologetic for targeting Nazis after WWII


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Jewish avengers unapologetic for targeting Nazis after WWII

  • In this April 1946 photo from the U.S. Army Signal Corps, U.S. Lt. Robert R, Rogers, left, and Erich Pinkau, of the German criminal police, examine the under-floor hiding place where arsenic was found in a Nuremberg, Germany bakery which supplied bread to Stalag 13, seven miles away. In mid-April, over 2,200 prisoners at the camp were stricken with arsenic poisoning from the toxicant coated on the loaves given to the prisoners. Seventy years after the most daring attempt of Jewish Holocaust survivors to seek revenge, the leader of the plot has only one simple regret _ that to his knowledge he didn't actually succeed in killing any Nazis. Joseph Harmatz is one of the few remaining Jewish "Avengers" who carried out a mass poisoning of former SS men in an American prisoner-of-war camp in 1946 after World War II. The poisoning sickened more than 2,200 Germans but ultimately caused no known deaths. (U.S. Army Signal Corps via AP)

    In this April 1946 photo from the U.S. Army Signal Corps, U.S. Lt. Robert R, Rogers, left, and Erich Pinkau, of the German criminal police, examine the under-floor hiding place where arsenic was found in a Nuremberg, Germany bakery which supplied bread to Stalag 13, seven miles away. In mid-April, over 2,200 prisoners at the camp were stricken with arsenic poisoning from the toxicant coated on the loaves given to the prisoners. Seventy years after the most daring attempt of Jewish Holocaust survivors to seek revenge, the leader of the plot has only one simple regret _ that to his knowledge he didn’t actually succeed in killing any Nazis. Joseph Harmatz is one of the few remaining Jewish “Avengers” who carried out a mass poisoning of former SS men in an American prisoner-of-war camp in 1946 after World War II. The poisoning sickened more than 2,200 Germans but ultimately caused no known deaths. (U.S. Army Signal Corps via AP)(The Associated Press)

Seventy years after the most daring attempt of Jewish Holocaust survivors to seek revenge against their former tormentors, the leader of the plot has only one simple regret — that to his knowledge he didn’t actually succeed in killing any Nazis.

Joseph Harmatz is one of the few remaining Jewish “Avengers” who carried out a mass poisoning of former SS men in an American prisoner-of-war camp in 1946 that sickened more than 2,200 Germans but ultimately caused no known deaths. A recently declassified U.S. military report obtained by The Associated Press has only added to the mystery of why the brazen operation did not kill Nazis, because it shows the amount of arsenic used should have been fatal to tens of thousands.

Still, the 91-year-old Harmatz says the message echoed into a rallying cry for the newborn state of Israel — that the days when attacks on Jews went unanswered were over.

“We didn’t want to come back (to pre-state Israel) without having done something, and that is why we were keen,” Harmatz said in a hoarse, whispery voice from his apartment in north Tel Aviv.

Despite a visceral desire for vengeance, most Holocaust survivors were too weary or devastated to seriously consider it, after their world was shattered and 6 million Jews killed during World War II. For most, merely rebuilding their lives and starting new families was revenge enough against a Nazi regime that aimed to destroy them. For others, physical retribution ran counter to Jewish morals and traditions. For even more, the whole concept of reprisals seemed pointless given the sheer scope of the genocide.

In this photo made on Monday, May 23, 2016, Joseph Harmatz sits during an interview with the Associated Press at his apartment in Tel Aviv, Israel. Harmatz is one of the few remaining Jewish "Avengers" who carried out a mass poisoning of former SS men in an American prisoner-of-war camp in 1946 after World War II. The poisoning sickened more than 2,200 Germans but ultimately caused no known deaths.(AP Photo /Tsafrir Abayov)

In this photo made on Monday, May 23, 2016, Joseph Harmatz sits during an interview with the Associated Press at his apartment in Tel Aviv, Israel. Harmatz is one of the few remaining Jewish “Avengers” who carried out a mass poisoning of former SS men in an American prisoner-of-war camp in 1946 after World War II. The poisoning sickened more than 2,200 Germans but ultimately caused no known deaths.(AP Photo /Tsafrir Abayov)(The Associated Press)

But a group of some 50, most young men and women who had already fought in the resistance, could not let the crimes go unpunished and actively sought to exact at least a small measure of revenge. The Nuremberg trials were prosecuting some top Nazis, but the Jewish people had no formal representative. There was a deep sense of justice denied, as the vast majority of Nazis immersed themselves back into a post-war Germany that was being rebuilt by the Americans’ Marshall plan.

While there were some isolated acts of Jews harming individual Nazis after the war, the group, codenamed Nakam, Hebrew for vengeance, sought a more comprehensive form of punishment.

“We didn’t understand why it shouldn’t be paid back,” said Harmatz, who was nicknamed Julek, and lost most of his family in the Holocaust.

So the group set out with a simple mission.

“Kill Germans,” Harmatz said flatly.

How many?

“As many as possible,” he quickly replied.

The first plan of action described by Harmatz was audacious. Initiated by the resistance fighter and noted Israeli poet Abba Kovner, the idea was to poison the water supply of Nuremberg, a plot that could have potentially killed hundreds of thousands.

But there were deep reservations even among the Avengers that such an operation would kill innocent Germans and undermine international support for the establishment of Israel. Either way, when Kovner sailed for Europe with the poison, he drew suspicion from British authorities and was forced to toss it overboard before he was arrested.

This photo from the U.S. Army Signal Corps taken during World War II shows a bakery in Nuremberg, Germany, which supplied bread to Stalag 13, seven miles away. In mid-April, over 2,200 prisoners at the camp were stricken with arsenic poisoning from arsenic coated on the loaves given to the prisoners. Full and empty bottles of the toxicant were found under the floor of the facility. Seventy years after the most daring attempt of Jewish Holocaust survivors to seek revenge, the leader of the plot has only one simple regret _ that to his knowledge he didn't actually succeed in killing any Nazis. Joseph Harmatz is one of the few remaining Jewish "Avengers" who carried out a mass poisoning of former SS men in an American prisoner-of-war camp in 1946 after World War II. The poisoning sickened more than 2,200 Germans but ultimately caused no known deaths. (U.S. Army Signal Corps via AP)

supplied bread to Stalag 13, seven miles away. In mid-April, over 2,200 prisoners at the camp were stricken with arsenic poisoning from arsenic coated on the loaves given to the prisoners. Full and empty bottles of the toxicant were found under the floor of the facility. Seventy years after the most daring attempt of Jewish Holocaust survivors to seek revenge, the leader of the plot has only one simple regret _ that to his knowledge he didn’t actually succeed in killing any Nazis. Joseph Harmatz is one of the few remaining Jewish “Avengers” who carried out a mass poisoning of former SS men in an American prisoner-of-war camp in 1946 after World War II. The poisoning sickened more than 2,200 Germans but ultimately caused no known deaths. (U.S. Army Signal Corps via AP)(The Associated Press)

Following that setback, attention shifted toward Plan B, a more limited operation that specifically targeted the worst Nazi perpetrators. Undercover members of the group found work at a bakery that supplied the Stalag 13 POW camp at Langwasser, near Nuremberg, and waited for their chance to strike the thousands of SS men the Americans held there.

It came on Apr. 13, 1946. Using poison procured from one of Kovner’s associates, three members spent two hours coating some 3,000 loaves of bread with arsenic, divided into four portions. The goal was to kill 12,000 SS personnel, and Harmatz oversaw the operation from outside the bakery.

While the mass death count of the first plan would have been disastrous for the Jewish people, the second’s more direct route was easier to accept, since its targets were the worst of the worst, said Dina Porat, the chief historian at Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial. She has written a biography of Kovner and is about to publish another book on the Avengers themselves.

“The terrible tragedy was about to be forgotten, and if you don’t punish for one crime, you will get another,” she explained. “This is what was driving them, not only justice but a warning, a warning to the world that you cannot hurt Jews in such a manner and get away with it.”

Even if they were ultimately unsuccessful, she said, the Avengers’ act was seeped with symbolism for a burgeoning state of Israel fighting for its survival in a hostile region.

“What is Zionism? Zionism is the Jews taking their fate in their own hands and not letting the others dictate our fate,” she said. “This is what they wanted to show. You cannot get away with such a terrible deed.”

Under German regulations, authorities in Nuremberg later investigated Harmatz and Leipke Distal, who worked undercover in the bakery for months, after they appeared in a 1999 television documentary and revealed details of the operation.

The prosecutors, in the uncomfortable position of having to investigate Holocaust survivors trying to kill Nazis, eventually concluded that even though there was an attempted murder they would not file charges because of the “extraordinary circumstances.”

According to previously classified files from the U.S. military’s Counter Intelligence Corps, which investigated the 1946 incident and which the Nuremberg prosecutors did not have access to, the amount of arsenic used should have been enough to cause a massive number of deaths. The files were obtained by the AP through a Freedom of Information Act request to the National Archives.

In one memo from 1947 stamped “confidential,” investigators write that at the bakery they found “three empty hot water bottles and a burlap bag containing four full hot water bottles.” An analysis of the contents “revealed that they contained enough arsenic mixed with glue and water to kill approximately 60,000 persons.”

Another confidential report said a chemist called in to help in the investigation had determined “10 kilo of pure arsenic was present, mixed with water and glue for adhesive purposes.”

Laboratory investigators found arsenic on the bottom, top and sides of the bread, and reported that doctors said the SS men exhibited symptoms “similar to cholera and included vomiting, diarrhea and skin rashes.” The report added that the most amount of arsenic found on a loaf was 0.2 grams — which fell well within the range of 0.1-0.3 grams that would be ‘in most cases lethal.”

To this day, it remains a mystery as to why the poison failed to kill Nazis. The prevailing theory is that the plotters in their haste spread the poison too thinly. Another is that the Nazi prisoners immediately sensed something was off with the bread and therefore no one ingested enough of it to die.

After the attack, Harmatz, Distal and others had to flee quickly. At the border of Czechoslovakia they were met by Yehuda Maimon, an Auschwitz survivor from Poland who lost his parents in the camps and decided to join Nakam shortly after escaping a death march. He was responsible for smuggling the group out safely and bribing officials at the border. From there, they slipped into Italy before migrating for good to the Holy Land.

From the retirement home outside Tel Aviv where his grandchildren frequently visit him, the 92-year-old Maimon, who goes by the nickname Poldek, fixes a steely gaze with his piercing blue eyes. He looks back with satisfaction at carrying out his “duty” for revenge before starting anew in Israel.

“It was imperative to form this group. If I am proud of something it is that I belonged to this group,” he said. “Heaven forbid if after the war we had just gone back to the routine without thinking about paying those bastards back. It would have been awful not to respond to those animals.”

____

Herschaft reported from New York. Associated Press writer David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

On Twitter, follow Heller at http://www.twitter.com/aronhellerap and Herschaft at http://www.twitter.com/HerschaftAP

First secret from ancient stone tablet revealed


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First secret from ancient stone tablet revealed

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/first-secret-from-ancient-tablet-revealed/


A close-up of a stele found at Poggio Colla, a site of religious ritual for the ancient Etruscans.

MUGELLO VALLEY PROJECT

An ancient tablet recently unearthed in Tuscany has revealed its first secret: the engraved name of a goddess linked to fertility.

The 500-pound (227 kilograms) stone slab, or stele, was unearthed earlier this year at Poggio Colla, a sixth century B.C. site built by the Etruscans. The stele bears a long inscription in a language that has not been used for 2,500 years, project archaeologist Gregory Warden, a professor emeritus at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, told Live Science in April.

Now, translation is underway and archaeologists have discovered that the tablet references the goddess Uni. [Photos: The Tomb of an Etruscan Prince]

“We can at this point affirm that this discovery is one of the most important Etruscan discoveries of the last few decades,” Warden said in a statement. “It’s a discovery that will provide not only valuable information about the nature of sacred practices at Poggio Colla, but also fundamental data for understanding the concepts and rituals of the Etruscans, as well as their writing and perhaps their language.”

etruscan-stele.jpg

The 500-pound stele, partly cleaned, bears the name of the Etruscan fertility goddess Uni and the head of the Etruscan pantheon, Tina.

MUGELLO VALLEY PROJECT

Mother goddess?

Uni was an important goddess linked to fertility. Previously, the most famous find at Poggio Colla was a piece of ceramic depicting a woman squatting to give birth, perhaps suggesting that a fertility cult worshiped at the site, according to Warden.

The Etruscans were a heavily religious society that started around 700 B.C. in modern-day northern and eastern Italy. They flourished until they were absorbed by Rome, a gradual process that took place between 500 B.C. and 100 B.C.

There are at least 120 characters on the Poggio Colla stele, making it the longest Etruscan inscription ever found on stone and among the longest three sacred texts ever discovered, researchers will report in a yet-unpublished article in the journal Etruscan Studies. The inscription might express the laws of the sanctuary, Warden said, perhaps outlining the ceremonies that took place there. Archaeologists have deciphered another word on the tablet, “Tina,” which refers to the head god of the Etruscan Pantheon (much like Zeus for the Greeks).

Striking find

Archaeologists have been digging at Poggio Colla for 21 years, and found the slab at the very end of the most recent field season at the site. It’s about 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide and made of sandstone. Because the stone is scuffed and chipped, researchers are painstakingly cleaning it in order to translate the words. Etruscans left behind few texts because they mostly wrote on linen or erasable wax tablets. Understanding Etruscan religious belief and ritual is important because as the civilization was engulfed by Rome, it influenced Roman culture and belief.

Most previously discovered texts are short inscriptions on graves, according to Warden. One linen book written in the Etruscan language was found on an Egyptian mummy — recycled as wrappings. Otherwise, researchers know little about Etruscan religious rituals, other than that they were polytheistic.

Though the stele is still being cleaned and studied, a hologram projection of it will be displayed in Florence on Aug. 27 as researchers announce the translations they’ve made so far.

Original article on Live Science.

AP documents 72 mass graves in territory freed of IS


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LORI HINNANT and DESMOND BUTLER,Associated Press 30 minutes ago

Lightning strike kills more than 300 reindeer in Norway


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Lightning strike kills more than 300 reindeer in Norway

Lightning kills over 300 reindeer in Norway
Lightning kills over 300 reindeer in Norway 02:05

Story highlights

  • 323 wild reindeer killed after being hit by a single lightning strike
  • The carcasses were scattered across Norway’s mountain plateau, Hardangervidda

(CNN)More than 300 reindeer have been killed by a single lightning strike at a Norwegian national park.

Pictures released by the Norwegian Environment Agency on Sunday show 323 carcasses scattered across a small, isolated area in Hardangervidda National Park. The plateau-like park in south-central Norway is home to Europe’s largest herds of wild reindeer, according to its website.
One of the agency’s inspectors discovered the dead animals over the weekend after a storm passed through.
Wild animals are occasionally struck by lightning, but the agency has never seen so many killed at once, spokesperson Kjartan Knutsen told CNN.
“We have never experienced such numbers before. This is very large,” Knutsen said. He said the wild reindeer were huddled together because of heavy weather on Friday, when the strike occurred.
“That’s why it’s possible for the lightning to kill so many,” he said.
The Norwegian park is home to Europe's largest herds of wild reindeer.

Humans rarely visit the remote area. The dead reindeer were found by one of the agency’s inspectors because Norway is in the midst of its annual wild reindeer hunting season.
Knutsen said five reindeer were still alive when the inspector came across the scene, but they had to be euthanized.
He said the agency has now begun taking samples from the dead animals as part of a health survey.
“We know they were killed by lightning, but this testing is for science,” he said.
The dead reindeer were still on site Monday. While the agency usually does not remove animals when they die in the wild, it is currently considering other options because of the large numbers, Knutsen said.
It’s not the first time a large herd of animals have been killed by lightning. In 2005, 68 cows were killed in Australia by a single bolt.

10 Misconceptions About Military Drones


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10 Misconceptions About Military Drones

JONATHAN H. KANTOR AUGUST 27, 2016

10 Misconceptions About Military Drones

Military drones have garnered a great deal of attention over the years since the 9/11 bombings, but they’re very misunderstood. While some reports accurately describe how they’re used in combat, many stories portray misconceptions that are outlandish and not supported by facts. Here are ten of the most common misconceptions about military drones.

Featured image credit: Lance Cheung, US Air Force

10They’re Called ‘Drones’

Reaper UAV Flight

Almost everyone refers to a military Unmanned Aerial Vehicle/System (UAV/S) as a drone, but that is a misnomer which is insulting to their pilots. (Yes, they have pilots.) The word “drone” is most often associated with a low humming sound, which is one of the reasons that male bees are called drones. Using the word “drone” to describe the complex systems put in place on today’s battlefields can be incongruous with military jargon and insulting to the operators.

“Drone” implies a lack of involvement by an expert operator, so the term isn’t widely used in the military. Outside the military, the word “drone” is most often associated with quadcopters, remote-controlled small aircraft used by hobbyists for various activities, including racing, aerial photography, and general fun.

 

9They’re New To Warfare

Venice Balloon Bombs

Photo credit: Prof. Jurij Drushnin via Monash University

UAVs aren’t new to warfare, but it might surprise you to learn that they were first used in the 19th century! Austrian forces attacking Italy in 1849 approached the city of Venice armed with 200 balloons. These balloons were armed with bombs controlled by timed fuses. They weren’t entirely successful, as many of them were blown by the wind back over the Austrian lines before they exploded, but several did explode over their targets. This is the first instance of pilotless aircraft being used in warfare.

Since that time, remotely operated aircraft have been developed and used throughout warfare. Until GPS became a widespread technology, allowing for satellite-controlled aircraft anywhere in the world, most were operated remotely via radio. This included radio-guided bombs among other types of weapon systems.

8They Require Few People To Operate Them

Reaper Maintenance

Photo credit: US Air Force

One of the biggest downsides to manned aircraft is the total number of people required to operate them. You have pilots, copilots, and onboard crew, depending on the type of vehicle. You also have the people required to fuel the vehicle, move it, maintain and repair it, and even store it when not in use.

UAVs are no different. In fact, they require more people to operate them than most manned vehicles. In addition to the people needed to maintain the aircraft and fly it, there are operators for each of the sensors and cameras onboard. To compare, an F-16 requires approximately 100 people for it to operate, while a Predator requires 168 and a Reaper requires 180.

 

7They Rarely Crash And Require Minimal Upkeep

Crashed UAV

Photo credit: US Air Force via The Washington Post

Upkeep of any military aircraft is expensive, and UAVs are no different in this regard. One major problem UAVs have is that they tend to crash . . . a lot. This is certainly preferable to losing a manned aircraft, since that requires a search and rescue operation to recover the pilot(s), while a crashed UAV doesn’t. Of course, the military isn’t generally satisfied with letting their technology fall into their enemy’s hands, so a crashed UAV often still requires a mission to recover or destroy the downed vehicle.

UAV crashes have been on the rise since 2004, possibly due to the increase in operational hours and an overtaxing of the available systems being used in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2004, there were only nine crashes, while the number jumped to 26 in 2012. Very few crashes are the result of hostile action against the vehicle and most drop out of the sky for unknown (or unreleased) reasons.

6Jamming Their Communications Will Bring Them Down

iStock_39732518_SMALL
Most UAVs use a satellite uplink, which is very difficult to jam. The waves are a very narrow beam pointing up toward the satellites, so jamming them from the ground is very difficult, though not impossible. If a drone’s communication is jammed, it switches to autopilot until it can regain communications with its host.

Commercial drones are much easier to jam, since they tend to work via radio communications, so an increase of energy on their operating frequency tends to take them out. When it comes to military UAVs, jamming is much less common.

Communications jamming is a dangerous enterprise due to the high amount of power needed to operate the equipment. There are several products and DIY projects people can find on the Internet to build “jamming rifles” if they feel that they need or want to jam a commercial drone, though we do not advise doing this.

5They Can Only Remain Airborne For A Short Period Of Time

Predator UAV Flight

This misconception might be due to the comparatively short-duration flights that commercial drones are capable of maintaining. Most commercial quadcopters can remain airborne for 15 minutes, with very few topping at twice that time. The main reason for this is simply energy storage and consumption. Most commercial drones are small and powered via an onboard battery. Almost all UAVs, however, carry fuel like any aircraft. Because of this, they can remain airborne and operational for much longer than their commercial counterparts.

The Predator, which is one of the most utilized UAVs in combat, has a flight time of approximately 27 hours, with a future upgrade with a cap of 40 hours projected to hit the battlefield in 2018. Another recently designed aircraft called the Global Observer Stratospheric Persistent UAS is able to fly for a period of 168 hours due to its high operating altitude of 20,000 meters (65,000 ft) and its use of liquid hydrogen for fuel.

 

4Anyone Can Operate A Drone (Like A Video Game)

UAV Piloting

While it might be true that a good video game player could make a good UAV operator, that doesn’t necessarily work in reverse. Most UAV pilots would resent this notion, and many have gone on record detailing how it is not at all like a video game. Most UAVs in operation in the military are as complicated to fly as any other aircraft and require a highly trained and skilled pilot to fly them. While some games can duplicate this to some degree, very few people who are good at playing Microsoft Flight Simulator can sit in a cockpit for eight hours without a break.

Another comparison that separates the two is that a UAV pilot may be called on to attack and destroy a target, which might very well be a living, breathing person. No video game can approximate what a person has to go through to accomplish that mission.

3They Have ‘Kill Lists’

Predator Sensor

Photo credit: Michael Pereckas

The primary mission for nearly all UAVs is reconnaissance and force protection. When in operation, they essentially amount to “eyes in the sky” and are used to ensure the safety of personnel operating on the ground. That isn’t to say that drones aren’t armed and used to engage targets; they do, but that’s not their primary mission. As such, they do not operate with “kill lists” naming targets that are to be engaged if found.

In order for a UAV to fire on any target, it first has to be identified and vetted, and then a decision is made by the ground commander whether or not to fire. Unfortunately, mistakes can be made as with piloted aircraft, and civilian targets have been engaged by mistake. This has led many to believe that UAVs have “kill lists” that allow them to engage a target whenever identified, regardless of the situation.

The military does maintain lists of High-Value Targets, but these are not loaded onto aircraft and seen as targets of opportunity. Rather, the lists drive mission planning in operational pursuit of a target, which may or may not involve a UAV.

2They’re Autonomous

Predator Pilots

As detailed above, almost all UAVs require highly skilled operators to pilot and utilize their various systems. Because of this, they cannot be considered autonomous, though some flight operations are handled by computers much like autopilot operations on a commercial aircraft.

While it can be said that the military does not operate autonomous killing robots as many may believe, that isn’t to say that they aren’t developing exactly that for future operations. Currently, the US Navy and Army areresearching autonomous drones due to a lack of pilots, and DARPA has commissioned a study to try to develop packs of six aircraft that would “Collaborate to find, track, identify, and engage targets.” Perhaps Sarah Connor was right . . .

1They’re All Armed And Designed To Kill

Pioneer UAV

Most UAVs operated by the US Military, which has more than 7,000, are designed and used for some form of aerial reconnaissance or surveillance. The Predator was designed for this and wasn’t armed until well into the conflict with Iraq. Fleets of smaller aircraft have never been and likely will never be armed due to their size and other uses.

While this remains a common misconception today, the future is less certain. Most countries are developing UAVs specifically for combat roles. In 2013, Boeing was able to retrofit an F-16, which normally requires two people to operate, to fly completely unmanned. Removing personnel from the cockpit allows the vehicle to achieve up to 9Gs, which would be incredibly dangerous for a person.

Beyond this, UAV helicopters with mounted miniguns have been in development as well as stealth aircraft and all sorts of weapon systems. The future of UAV warfare seems to be leaning toward making this misconception a reality.