China's 'War on Pollution' Will Be Fought by Smog-Sucking Drones

Premier Li Keqiang might get a little unmanned assistance clearing out the fog of war.

Beijing in smog. Image: Patrick Denker/Flickr.

Air pollution in mainland China has finally gotten so bad that Premier Li Keqiang declared an all-out "war on pollution" at the annual opening of parliament in Beijing on Wednesday. To that end, Li wants to scrub significant amounts of hazardous particulates out of the air—which might prove a Herculean task if not for a soft-wing, smog-sucking parafoil drone.

The idea is to fly the parachuted UAV, which reportedly can handle a payload three times that of other comparable fixed-wing drones, on "fog fighting" sorties over the People's Republic. That's according to Ma Yongsheng, an aviation official and head of the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China, who said that the eco drone will begin trial runs later this month at select ports and airports, as the South China Morning Post reports.

Kitted out with up to 700 kg of smog-clearing chemicals, the drone is allegedly quite the money saver, with purchase and maintenance costs between 20 and 30 percent cheaper compared to similar soft-wing parafoil gliders, Ma added. To boot, he said the drone "was easy to control and had no complicated landing requirements" within a radius of five kilometers. Not bad.

Watch VICE's doc on the coal-mining town of Linfen, otherwise known as the most polluted place on Earth. (Part II here.)

This is all part and parcel of China's recent efforts to clear the air with both manned and umnanned technologies. Over the past few years, the country has deployed all sorts of fixed-wing drones and airplanes (and lest anyone forgets, computerized anti-propaganda kites) that spray chemicals into the air, the idea being to "freeze" nasty pollutants right out of the sky.

Which is all well and good. But the rub, as Quartz notes, is that "all that air pollution has to go somewhere":

As with another implausible scheme to clear air pollution with a mist of frigid liquid nitrogen, the toxic pollutants would still be present in the environment after they were drone-sprayed out of the air.

Nevertheless, China will be able to apply the parafoil smog-eating UAV to a range of other civil scenarios, Ma said, including disaster relief, surveying missions, emergency rescue, aerial photography, and agriculture seeding. 

No word, for now, on whether its smog-busting capabilities, at least, will have the unintended effect of clearing the way for America's laser weapons.