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Is Al Qaeda Planning Terrorist Attack on AeroVironment Inc? Here's the L.A. County Firm's 5 Coolest Spy Drones

Reports abound this morning of a possible Al Qaeda attack plan against 11 officials at L.A. County's own AeroVironment Inc., a top drone manufacturer in the U.S. War on Terror.

Employees of the Monrovia company tell the San Gabriel Valley Tribune they were called into a meeting Thursday afternoon and warned that the FBI was looking into a terrorist plot against AeroVironment -- part of the retaliation effort against Osama Bin Laden's recent U.S. assassination. Creepy stuff.

After combing an Al Qaeda-linked jihadist hit list online, the Homeland Security Today blog confirmed:

In addition to the top US military leaders targeted by Al Qaeda sympathizers, 11 top and senior executives of AeroVironment Inc., including CEO Timothy Conver, were identified by the jihadist forums members. ... AeroVironment manufactures the thousands of miniature robotic [unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs] like the Raven, Wasp and Digital Puma that are being used over the battlefields in Afghanistan in the US-led war on Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The firm is the largest maker of the tiny drone spy planes that are being used in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT).

Al Qaeda has every reason to hate AeroVironment execs: They're thinking up some of the nation's most advanced anti-terrorist technology at a time we need it most (because romping around in the desert with an AK-47 doesn't always do the trick).

And given an attack is (hopefully) averted by the FBI, the Al Qaeda threat might be considered bragging rights for a cutting-edge drone manufacturer like Monrovia's. In honor of their badassery (forgive the barfy patriotism; this Fourth of July business is really getting to us), here are the five coolest spy bots being birthed over in east County right now:

5. The Global Observer is the hugest of the company's UAVs. Instead of buzzy street-level spying (and we'll get to that), the unmanned Observer satellite floats 5,000 feet above Earth, providing "a 24/7/365 unblinking eye and continuous communications link over any location on the earth's surface for as long as needed." How majestic is this takeoff:

4. Moving a bit closer to Earth but gliding far enough above to avoid enemy detection, the Raven, a small plane with 4.5-foot wingspan, can focus on land targets up to 10 kilometers down. In the day, it sends back exceptionally clear color imagery, and it's not so shabby by night, either:

3. Though this guy looks more like an old Amelia Earhart relic, AeroVironment's water-friendly Puma is all parts 21st century. It can communicate up to 15 kilometers away, fly with almost no noise for two hours straight and can land on virtually any surface, free of gear.

2. The Wasp, weighing only 430 grams, is designed for front-line surveillance. Awesomely, he (yes, we're sexist when it comes to UAVs) can either be controlled manually or left to navigate the warzone on his own. He can even dodge a bird of prey's most carnivorous advances:

1. By far the most inconspicuous of AeroVironment's war gadgets, the Nano Hummingbird got big press early in 2011 for its creepy realism and insane superpowers, like an "autonomous 360 degree lateral flip." Pretty hardcore for an iridescent flower flitter.

Now that the tech company itself looks to be a terrorist target, it might think about putting some of its military dronage to personal use. Any former U.S. Defense Secretaries looking for a retirement project?

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]