Black Hornet up

FLIR Systems makes tiny military drones

FLIR Systems

Photo: Lance Cpl. Julien Rodarte / Department of Defense
A U.S. Marine prepares a PD-100 Black Hornet Nano unmanned aerial system for flight during Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment, Aug. 5, 2016, at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. The system was designed to increase initial visibility of an enemy before they are engaged. The Black Hornet was developed by Norwegian startup, FLIR Systems, Inc., and is currently deployed in more than 30 countries.

Rasmus Falck
Oslo, Norway

Thanks to an acquired Norwegian startup, FLIR Systems, Inc., was in January awarded a $39.6 million order to deliver Black Hornet personal reconnaissance systems in support of the U.S. Army. Jim Canon, president and CEO of the company, was, according to a press release, proud to be selected by the U.S. Army. The contract represents a significant milestone with the operational large-scale deployment of small drones into the world’s most powerful army. Also in January, the company was awarded an $89 million contract from the French Defense Procurement Agency. It has so far delivered over 8,000 Black Hornets around the world.   

FLIR operates in many locations around the globe and employs nearly 3,500 people. It was established and headquartered in Wilsonville, Ore., in 1978 to pioneer the development of high-performance, low-cost infrared imaging systems for airborne applications. Today, it brings innovative sensing solutions into daily life through its terminal imaging, visible light imaging, video analytics, measurement and diagnostic, and advanced threat detection systems. The product helps first responders and military personnel protect and save lives.

In 2016, FLIR bought the Norwegian startup Prox Dynamics for $134 million. For FLIR, this was the start of entering the drone business. Prox Dynamics was founded by Petter Muren in 2007 in Asker, just outside Oslo. It builds on many years of experience in Microsoft helicopter technologies. Muren was the first to design a passively stable helicopter rotor system that later formed the basis for the radio-controlled toy helicopter. He worked several years as a consultant for a major Nano air vehicle project before he put his idea into his own company. Teaming up specialists in video and signal processing, hardware designers, and those with operational know-how, he created the necessary foundation for the company.

FLIR Systems

Black Hornet 3 can perform surveillance even in areas that are outside of the range of GPS satellites.

The first-generation Black Hornet measured 4 inches long and 1 inch tall with a 4-inch rotor span. It weighed just 16 grams (about half an ounce), flew nearly silently, and was colored to blend in with the gray mud buildings of Afghan villages. The payload consisted of a single tiny camera that delivered both full motion video and still images back to the recon soldier’s handheld terminal up to 3,300 feet away.

It may look like a child’s toy, but it has been ruggedized to handle the harsh, hot, and windy environments in which it operates. During 2012, the Black Hornet was deployed with U.K. forces in Afghanistan, thus introducing a brand-new, game-changing capacity to the modern warfighter.

Prox Dynamics changed the name to FLIR unmanned aerial systems. The Black Hornet is the world’s smallest combat-proven Nano unmanned aerial system. It is currently deployed in more than 30 countries. The new contracts will be managed and executed by FLIR in Hvalstad, and production will continue to take place at the old military establishment at Eggemoen in Hønefoss. Production facilities will be doubled from 8,600 to over 17,000 square feet.

FLIR’s vision is to be “The World’s Sixth Sense” and provide innovative, intelligent solutions for security and surveillance.

This article originally appeared in the March 22, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

Avatar photo

Rasmus Falck

Rasmus Falck is a strong innovation and entrepreneurship advocate. The author of “What do the best do better” and “The board of directors as a resource in SME,” he received his masters degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently lives in Oslo.