Drones and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles)are becoming increasingly vital in modern combat, but they've been little represented in action figure form. Hasbro announced a nice-looking GI Joe UAV set a few years back, but this was shown just as they canceled the 12" line, and to the best of my knowledge, it was never sold in the U.S. or elsewhere.
Well, this year, in the assortment of goodies just arriving at Big Lots stores, M&C Toys has stepped up to the plate with their Power Team line. They offer a set with a figure, a ton of gear, and a mini-UAV for about $20. It isn't perfect, but it's a good deal at the price, and a unique item that will fit in well with your more realistic modern soldiers as well.
(Click on most photos for larger versions)
Here's a look at the contents. You get a fully uniformed soldier with a "G3" super articulated body, rifle, grenade launcher, scope, pistol, helmet, goggles, battle-damaged wall, table, wooden crate, jerry can, backpack, tool box, laptop computer, full satcom set with antenna, and of course, the UAV itself.
The figure itself is the most familiar part of the set. Standard G3 body, for what's good and bad about that. Has black-gloved hands. No ungloved hands in this set, unfortunately. Mine had a bit of a floppy (in the arm rotation, not the elbow joint itself) right elbow but I've got no reason to suppose this is a common problem. The head sculpt in mine is one of their newer ones. Not the best one I saw in Big Lots that day, but not one of the really objectionable ones (with the goofy grins) either. I can't decide if this guy has a look of grim determination, or if he's just smirking a tiny bit. The former, I hope.
Though all the ones I saw on the shelf had the same head, I wouldn't be surprised to see different heads through the run. Check yours before buying.
Given that we've seen most of the stuff in this set before, let's first address the most interesting thing, the UAV itself.
My assumption, given that Power Team is definitely a toy line, not an adult collectible, was that the UAV was probably a generic item not based on any given prototype. The rather plain look of the top of the UAV visible in the window box does nothing to correct this. In fact, I almost didn't buy the set for that reason. Fortunately, I pressed on, figuring I could use the rest of the gear for my Minions at Work cartoons, if nothing else.
The surprise came when I flipped it over. The bottom is much more detailed. I could recognize on one wing the outline of what was most likely a satellite or communications antenna, and there's an open bay where camera and sensor equipment would be installed. The design of the antenna alone strongly suggested that this was based on a real prototype, and some searching on Google's image search verified that fact.
The UAV modeled is a Lockheed-Martin product known as the Desert Hawk, designed by the famous "Skunk Works" who also designed things like the SR-71 Blackbird and the U-2 spy plane! This is a rather mode modest affair, however. Constructed of rugged plastic foam, the real plane is effectively an aerial robot, flying a set of programmed GPS waypoints downloaded in the field from a laptop computer. There's no joystick (and so no supervision or piloting skill required of the operators), though the waypoints can be reprogrammed from the ground, and the plane can be set to "orbit" a specified waypoint of interest.
This is in use by the U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan and other places around the world, and has also been used by the British in Iraq (but was abandoned after local mobile phones interfered with the radio downlink) and Afghanistan.
Let's have a look at the real thing:
(Photo Global Security)
As you can see, while the proportions and some of the details are a little off, this is a pretty darned close replica of the original. Also note that I've seen a lot of variations in photos of this UAV, and they tend to be damaged and field repaired with every use (it doesn't land so much as have a controlled crash, depending on the foam to protect the delicate inner workings). In the field, these are likely to be covered with dings, dents, and repair tape. So the Power Team version isn't bad at all.
Here's the camera bay of the Power Team version. My first thought was that something was missing, that there might be a removable cover that had fallen off in the box, but no, the real thing flies like this. The molded details inside appear to represent the visible light camera package. I think the camera is a small molded detail on the left center bay wall in this picture. The real thing also flies with a thermal imaging package. This has a large sensor mounted in the fore-body, pointing at a large, round gold-colored mirror that takes up most of the bay. Modeling this would be a fun modification for those into serious kitbashing.
As for the current version it desperately needs some detail paint to enhance the realism. In most of the pictures I've seen, the exposed bits (all the raised details in the PT version) appear to be flat black. This is an easy fix (though a steady hand is required). You could probably also just paint the entire bay black, and it wouldn't look too bad.
(US Air Force Photo)
This shot more clearly shows the camera bay. Notice the reflector for the thermal imaging system. Also note the clearly visible grain of the foam, and the tape holding things together. This is a launch photo. There's a long elastic cord attached to the nose, and the airman at right is holding the plane as the cord is stretched out.
When released, the plane is launched, and the motor automatically starts. The real deal has a 2 bladed propeller, not a three-bladed one as on the PT version. The PT propeller isn't that realistic anyway. It could easily be replaced with a 2 or 3 bladed propeller from a die-cast airplane would would really enhance the look. The launch cord could easily be modeled from string or sewing elastic.
(Photo: UK Ministry of Defense)
This shot shows the top of the real Desert Hawk. It seems that the photos Power Team worked from didn't show the top very well, as this is under-detailed in their version. There are lots more folds, joints, and panel lines. Note also the RC-model-plane-style control horns and push rods on the wing and tail control surfaces. Those would be easy details to make some some wire and scrap plastic, and would really enhance the look.
I haven't measured, and web accounts give somewhat conflicting specifications, but the PT version seems close to scale.
(Photo: UK Ministry of Defense)
This shot gives a look at the ground-support equipment. It all comes in a big, foam-lined, suitcase. There's a standard looking laptop computer (the PT one is just fine), plus a smaller unit (center bottom in this photo) that looks like one of those portable DVD players with the flip up LCD screen. I'm guessing this provides video from the aircraft in real-time. There are a couple of "black box" electronics modules, the gold one in front of the computer in this photo, and a second flat box located in a recess in the lid.
(Photo: Code One Magazine)
Here's another look at the ground support equipment. You can more clearly see the smaller LCD screen and the recesses in the lid of the case. In some photos (naturally, none I could locate to post here) there are two antennas that mount to the top of the open case lid. One is a black rubber whip antenna (like you see on an older walkie-talkie or police radio) about a foot long, and a white rod antenna (looks like a piece of white PVC pipe, about 3-4 feet long, and maybe an inch in diameter). Both would be easy to reproduce in 1/6th scale.
This setup isn't accurately represented in the Power Team set, but it wouldn't be that hard to create a fairly good representation. The flat satcom radios in the Power Team set would be serviceable as the two black-box modules in the real thing. I suspect that somewhere there's been a fashion doll portable DVD player that could work for the smaller screen. The case could be a fashion doll suitcase, or made from a small plastic box with a lid of some kind. Black craft foam could be cut to create inserts. (See my tutorial on making an easy fitted rifle case here for ideas on making those inserts.
I know, I'm suggesting a lot of modifications, but we're not talking Dragon Models here, and it's not like there are a lot of options for a 1/6th UAV. This is a toy, and it's very nice for what it is. It's worth the potential effort of modifying it into a more realistic representation of the real thing, if that's what you need.
Here's a closer look at some of the other gear in the set. Most of it is familiar to Power Team fans. The crate is hollow and has a removable lid. The backpack is flexible plastic with working straps, hard plastic frame, and a hollow interior. That table and jerry can are also standard issue.
Here's a close look at the electronics. The satcom boxes look pretty realistic, the antenna less so (but at least it's more durable than some of the other versions out there. There's a telephone handset, and cables to patch everything together. The computer is the newer one see in some previous sets. It doesn't look like much closed, but it's actually very realistic. The standard "thermal imaging" graphic sticker on the screen is especially appropriate in this case.
This is the tool box, previously seen in the combat engineer and possibly other sets, but no included tools this time. Molded in one piece of soft plastic with a removable tray. Not very realistic, and nearly impossible to paint. Not my favorite part of the set, but the thought is there.
A final look at most of the set (the electronics were all stashed inside the crate, and I forgot about them in this photo. Several of the items in the set, such as the wall, table, and crate, could have their realism greatly enhanced with a little paint. For less reality-obsessive play, this set is very nice.
This is a very unique set, even if most of the contents are familiar. With a little work, the UAV would work great with more realistic modern troops, especially in middle-east setting. It would also be a great addition to an Adventure Team type scenario. All it needs is an Adventure Team symbol on the wing. It's definately worth the $20.
If past experience is any guide, these won't last in Big Lots long, so if you want one, buy it NOW. Don't wait for Christmas, as they may be long gone.