By Ben Terris
“Whatever you write, please don’t call it a drone,” Steen Mogensen says, gently touching the tail of a 19-foot orange-and-white helicopter. Mogensen, the CEO of Scion UAS, didn’t mean to say that this vehicle can’t fly without a pilot—of course it can, this is the unmanned-vehicles convention in Washington. It’s the terminology he takes issue with.
“It just strikes fear into a lot of people,” says Mogensen, who with his soft Danish accent and slight potbelly is himself decidedly not scary. Even talking about the more controversial aspects of unmanned aircraft, he manages to take the edge off with a touch of folksiness: “If you fear they will fly overhead and take a picture of your wife in a swimming pool, just remember that your neighbor can put his iPhone on a stick and do the same thing.” (Of course, an iPhone can’t hover hundreds of feet in the air for hours on end and be controlled from a remote location.)
Other than the fact that this craft—nicknamed “The Jackal”—can be operated from the ground, it has very little in common with the Predator drones delivering the Hellfire missiles made famous by the evening news and Homeland. Americans are well familiar with the fact that weaponized drones have been used to kill al-Qaeda operatives (and civilians as well) throughout Pakistan and other areas, and that the government has the ability to target an insurgent’s cellphone. But, with a seat in the cockpit and the ability to carry more than 200 pounds, the Jackal is designed more to save lives than it is to take them.