Chinese test “death zone” spy drones that are nearly invisible to radar

Avatar By Aaron Sims | 3 years ago

Chinese scientists are testing new bat-sized spy drones whose small size makes them almost undetectable to radar systems. The scientists hope that these drones could enable China to a region of the atmosphere known as the “death zone.”

The death zone begins at about 12 miles above sea level, an area that researchers call “near space.” It’s the “death zone” to drone operators because most drones fail and crash when they venture into it. At this altitude, the air is so thin that drones have difficulty maintaining their flight paths and is so cold that their electronic systems frequently fail.

Some drones built for near-space flight exist, such as the U.S.-built MQ-9 Reaper and the Chinese Caihong 5, but they cost millions of dollars per vehicle. This new Chinese drone, on the other hand, will cost as little as a few hundred yuan, or less than $200.


The new Chinese drones fly higher and more cheaply by having much fewer electronic components and packing much lighter. There are no power motors or onboard cameras—only tiny sensors that can map terrain and locate military installations or activities.


The drones launch using an electromagnetic pulse that makes them accelerate from zero to 62 miles per hour at just arm’s length. Prototype drones underwent a successful test launch in Mongolia last month and reached 15 miles above sea level before arriving at targets more than 60 miles away.

“It shot out like a bullet,” said Yang Yanchu, one of the project’s lead scientists.

The drones’ high flight paths make them much harder to shoot down. Anti-aircraft fire hits drones that are flying at normal altitudes, but it doesn’t usually reach death-zone altitudes.