Before the Pentagon decided that it wanted to stock soldiers’ backpacks with miniature unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, Defense Department researchers had a slightly different idea: give G.I.s their own flying saucers instead. Cool photo.

The Multipurpose Security and Surveillance Mission Platform (MSSMP), flown from 1992 to 1998, used a ducted fan and a 50 hp engine to “cruise at speeds of up to 80 knots, for up to three hours, with a ceiling of 8,000 feet,” according to Weighing at 250 pounds with a diameter of six feet, the MSSMP was meant to “provide a rapidly deployable, extended-range surveillance capability for a variety of operations and missions, including: fire control, force protection, tactical security, support to counterdrug and border patrol operations, signal/communications relays, detection and assessment of barriers (i.e., mine fields, tank traps), remote assessment of suspected contaminated areas (i.e., chemical, biological, and nuclear), and even resupply of small quantities of critical items,” its makers at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center say. (These are the same wizards of robotics that put together the ultra-intimidating Robart III guard drone.)

In the mid-90’s, the MSSMP apparently had a couple of successful demontrations at Army posts. For example, in January 1997, the MSSMP system’s flew over Ft. Benning’s urban operations training facility, providing “reconnaissance support with the vehicle flying down city streets, looking through upper- and lower-story windows, providing lookout support ahead of advancing troops, and performing observations after landing on the roof of a two story building. The vehicle also dropped a simulated radio relay on the top of a building, a miniature intrusion detector in an open field, and carried a standard Army laser rangefinder/designator as a payload.”

The Army has a similiar set of tasks in mind for its family of “Organic Air Vehicles,” slated for soldiers hands if and when the Future Combat Systems project ever comes to pass. The “Organics” rely the same, ducted-fan propulsion as the MSSMP.

This isn’t the only saucer-esque craft the Pentagon has toyed with. In 2003, the Navy worked briefly with Russian scientists on a vacuum-powered, pita-shaped UAV. And back in the 40’s, the Navy developed the Flying Flapjack — a propeller-powered, Frisbee-looking fighter plane that could take off and land like a helicopter. Despite years of testing, it never got more than a few feet off of the ground.

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