Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles
Appendix 4: Undesignated Vehicles
Copyright © 2004 Andreas Parsch

Leading Systems Amber

In the early 1980s, DARPA began to study long-endurance UAVs under the classified TEAL RAIN program, and in 1984 Leading Systems Inc. (LSI) received a contract to develop the Amber medium-range tactical surveillance UAV. The first flight of an Amber vehicle occurred in November 1986.

The Amber was equipped with a retractable tricycle landing gear for conventional take-off and landing. It was powered by a rear-mounted piston engine driving a two-blade pusher propeller. The tail was of inverted-V design, and the high aspect ratio wing was mounted on a short pylon atop the fuselage. LSI initially built three vehicles each of two Amber configurations, called A45 and B45. The A45 had a pointed nose section with a warhead, and was to be used as a low-cost cruise missile. Over the target, the pylon-mounted wing could be jettisoned and the UAV would fall on the target. The B45 was a reusable reconnaissance UAV with a bulged nose housing cameras and other sensors.

It was not before 1988, that the existence of the Amber was revealed to the public, and in June of that year, the UAV demonstrated an endurance of more than 38 hours (a new record at that time). Around the same time, the UAV activities of the U.S. military services were re-organized in a Joint Program Office (JPO) for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to avoid further duplication of development efforts. Under the direction of the JPO, LSI produced seven Amber I vehicles, an updated version of the Amber B45 to be used by the military. The Amber I had a payload capacity of about 63 kg (140 lb) and could e.g. carry a daylight television camera or a FLIR (Forward-Looking Infrared) system. It had an operational range of 2200 km (1200 nm) and an endurance of about 38 hours when flying at 1500 m (5000 ft). The UAV was equipped with an autopilot and a two-way datalink, and it could be flown from the ground using imagery from a nose-mounted TV camera.

Photo: Lockheed Martin
Amber I

The U.S. Army conducted so-called "maturation tests" with Amber during October 1989, using the three original Amber B45s and all seven Amber Is. The test successfully demonstrated the reliability and maintainability of the whole system including sensors and ground equipment, and by January 1990, all Amber Is had been formally delivered to the U.S. government. However, the Amber program was cancelled in that year for budgetary reasons, and all vehicles were immediately placed in storage without having ever been declared operational. The Amber was the direct predecessor of the very successful Gnat-750 UAV.


Note: Data given by several sources show slight variations. Figures given below may therefore be inaccurate!

Data for Amber I:

Length4.52 m (14 ft 10 in)
Wingspan8.99 m (29 ft 6 in)
Speed200 km/h (125 mph)
Ceiling7620 m (25000 ft)
Range2200 km (1200 nm)
Endurance38 h
PropulsionRotax 582 piston engine; 48.5 kW (65 hp)

Main Sources

[1] Curtiss Peebles: "Dark Eagles: A History of Top Secret U.S. Aircraft Programs", Presidio, 1999

Back to Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles, Appendix 4

Last Updated: 31 May 2004