BEGINNING NEXT MONTH, the skies of Bosnia will be patrolled by Predator--an unmanned surveillance plane equipped with some of the U.S. military's most sophisticated cameras and radar. An earlier version of Predator, whose prime contractor is San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., began flying missions in Bosnia last summer. Among other exploits, it confirmed that Serbian guns had not been pulled back from Sarajevo as promised. Now, three Predators have been fitted with an advanced, all-weather radar system from Westinghouse Electric Corp.
Predator, a 2,000-pound plane with a 48-foot wingspan, can stay aloft for 60 hours. That's almost three days--far longer than manned aircraft. What's more, if the unmanned vehicle gets shot down, "the pilot just turns the key off and goes to lunch, 260 miles away," says Thomas J. Cassidy Jr., president of General Atomics Aeronautical. Predator costs less than $4 million, or a tenth the price of a military recon jet. Out of the line of fire, Cassidy says, Predator could be used for monitoring oil spills, forest fires, river traffic, and national borders.