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Wing Loong drones used in disaster relief, weather study

By ZHAO LEI | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-07-27 07:07
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A Wing Loong 2H disaster-assistance drone at an airport in Anshun, Guizhou province, on July 21, 20212. Provided to CHINA DAILY

China's Wing Loong series of unmanned aircraft have long been known for their strong combat capability, good performance in battles and popularity among foreign buyers.

Now, their manufacturer-the State-owned defense conglomerate Aviation Industry Corp of China-said the powerful machines are not only suited for theater reconnaissance and precision strikes, but can also serve a host of civilian purposes.

The most recent example, which involved a Wing Loong 2H that provided communication signals to people besieged by floods in Henan province, has gone viral in Chinese media and social networks, with internet users calling it a "magic drone" that helps to save lives.

Last week, China deployed a Wing Loong 2H to restore communication services and survey conditions in several parts of Henan province that were severely affected by recent heavy rain and flooding.

The remotely controlled aircraft used a mini signal transmission device to allow people trapped in flooded areas to connect to the China Mobile network, enabling them to report their situation, call for help or coordinate evacuation work.

Wang Dayong, a deputy chief designer of the Wing Loong series at the AVIC Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute, said on Monday that his institute had designed and built several civilian models based on the Wing Loong 2 and Wing Loong 10 combat drones.

"We have built a weather modification drone, called Ganlin 1, based on the Wing Loong 2 and conducted its maiden flight test in January in Gansu province. It is the world's first large drone dedicated to weather control," he said. "It has world-class weather modification technology. It can remain airborne for up to 14 hours and has a flight capacity of 5,000 kilometers."

The China Meteorological Administration is working with Gansu provincial authorities to operate a trial run of deploying the drone to produce artificial precipitation, according to the designer.

In addition to making rain, the aircraft is also capable of long-range meteorological detection and gathering atmospheric data, and can operate in bad weather, Wang noted.

He said another Wing Loong 2 has been used by forestry fire departments. Carrying cameras and sensors, the drone can enable firefighters to detect and handle forest fires in a rapid, efficient manner.

"Currently, fire departments need to send in personnel to detect and monitor forest fires at short range, which usually causes risks for firefighters. Some would use small drones to conduct the task, but small craft are hugely restricted by their short operational time and flight range, therefore large drones like Wing Loong 2 are an ideal option," the designer explained.

Li Yidong, Wing Loong series' chief designer, said researchers have developed a Wing Loong 10H coastal search-and-rescue drone to find people and ships in distress at sea, provide communication signals and deliver life buoys.

Moreover, another Wing Loong 10-based model is being used by the China Meteorological Administration in studying typhoons and other marine weather phenomena, he said.

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