Crews trying to control Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan are using a tool seen by only a few people outside the military: an 18-inch flying machine that can zip around at 50 miles an hour, stop quickly, and hover while taking videos and radioactivity readings.

The T-Hawk, as it’s called, belongs to a class of unmanned planes called “micro air vehicles” that have been used for a few years by U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan for surveillance. Honeywell International Inc., the maker of the T-Hawk, has supplied four of the funnel-shaped drones to help Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator. The T-Hawk earlier this month gathered video and radiation data at the Fukushima plant, which was damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

It is the first time the remotely piloted devices have been used outside of a war zone.

Since Japan’s crippling earthquake, Tepco and recovery crews have relied on much larger, better-known drones such as Global Hawks to circle the area and provide detailed videos of the damage.

The T-Hawk, originally built for the Pentagon’s advanced research agency, uses a two-cylinder, two-stroke engine and typically operates between 100 and 200 feet off the ground.

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