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Navy Launches Its First Drone Squadron

The U.S. Navy is inaugurating its first squadron that mixes advanced unmanned drones with conventional aircraft.

The maritime strike squadron, nicknamed the "Magicians," will be officially launched at the Naval Air Station North Island on Coronado, near San Diego.

Along with eight manned helicopters, the squadron will include a number of unmanned helicopter drones, known as MQ-8B Fire Scouts, that can track targets at sea or on land. The Air Force already has several drone squadrons.

The Fire Scout, built by Northrop Grumman, "has the ability to autonomously take off and land on any aviation-capable warship and at prepared and unprepared landing zones in proximity to the soldier in contact," according to company literature.

Northrop Grumman says the unmanned aerial vehicle can operate continuously for up to eight hours while providing coverage in a 125-mile radius of the launch site.

The Associated Press quotes U.S. Navy Lt. Aaron Kakiel as saying the squadron will be deployed aboard the Navy's new littoral combat ship in about a year.

The squadron's creation comes 100 years after the formation of the first Navy air detachment, Kakiel says.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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