This week there are two aerospace oddities in the aircraft section of popular online auction site eBay. The first is a full scale replica of the first man-made object to orbit the earth, the Russian satellite Sputnik 1. The model for sale on eBay looks like it was made for a museum, and in fact a museum is advertised as one of the possible homes for the life size satellite replica. (Being made of aluminum and steel, I guess if you didn’t really care about the space history aspect of this model, you could buy it, remove the long antennas, and use it as a fancy disco ball. Though with a starting bid of $1000, not exactly a cheap one.) The company selling the Sputnik appears to be a company that makes regular scale models of aircraft, but has decided to start making life-size replicas of historical aircraft and spacecraft. They also have a full-scale replica of a Louis Bleriot monoplane, the first aircraft to fly across the English channel. How well these types of actual size aerospace replicas sell remains to be seen. But if you don’t have the big bucks to buy a very rare aerospace artifact (assuming they were even for sale, as most are in museums), buying one of these replicas may be a way to satisfy your collector’s habit without going broke. Assuming you have the space to display them, that is.
The second item is an autonomous unmanned helicopter, also classified as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Though its a little difficult to tell the scale of this helicopter from the pictures, it doesn’t appear to be much bigger than a radio controlled (R/C) helicopter. However, with a starting bid price of $12,500, it’s a lot more expensive than a R/C. (As of today, there were no bidders on this UAV.) The listing says you can carry up to 30 pounds of payload with this little chopper, and that it can be used for aerial photography, surveillance, etc. It also includes five days of training, which probably makes up a big chunk of the price, as I’ve heard that regular R/C helicopters can be pretty difficult to learn to fly. But this helicopter can apparently also fly itself (hence the autonomous option?), which probably requires some sophisticated navigation and flight control software. UAV’s are all the rage in military circles, and there are a lot of companies, both big and small vying for the business, so you’ll probably see more of these type of UAV’s showing up for sale in the civilian marketplace. One issue that still needs to be resolved with these type of aircraft is how they will integrate into the existing airspace control system in the U.S. The FAA needs to insure that if one of these UAV somehow loses contact with it’s controller on the ground that it doesn’t become a threat to manned aircraft, small or large.