FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Army News Service, April 30, 2008) - Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne got a hands on perspective on the Raven, an unmanned aerial vehicle, during a 10-day Raven training course from April 22 to May 2 at the 3rd Brigade Combat Team headquarters.

Once limited to brigade and higher level commanders, the hand-launched aircraft is one of the latest technologies to enhance warfighting capabilities, putting aerial reconnaissance tools in the hands of Paratroopers on the ground.

Soldiers learned to assemble and inspect the aircraft, launch the aircraft and operate the remote control to manage the plane's movements and cameras. The crash-course is designed to give a Soldier of any job or skill a basic idea of how to operate the Raven instead of relying on a UAV specialist. The course is usually a mixture of combat and non-combat Paratroopers who have never touched a UAV.

At just over 4 pounds and having a span of five feet, this small aircraft gives its operator a full-range battlefield perspective. The Raven is equipped with three cameras: an electrical optical camera and two infrared cameras. This provides an aerial observation of 10 to 15 kilometers at altitudes up to 1,000 feet.

"When we first went over to support Operation Iraqi Freedom, we had Raven capabilities," said Spc. Gregory J. Chandler, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. "What we (infantry units) didn't have was anybody to train us on it."

Although this tool of war is not meant to be treated like a video game, instructors of the course explained that gamers quickly get the concept of the Raven and its capabilities.

"It's the game people-the guys who love Play Station 3 and computer games--who really have a good understanding of the Raven," said Chief UAV flight instructor Mike Plonski.

"It's like a gigantic video game for adults, but with real consequences in the bigger picture," he said.

By the fifth day, most of the trainees will have a pretty solid concept of the complicated aircraft, said Plonski, who has seen the progression of UAVs in the last twenty years. The hardest part of the training is launching the aircraft.

Before launching the aircraft, Soldiers have to practice with baseball bats. This exercise gives each person a feel of how the Raven should be launched in order to be mission capable.

"If you can't launch it, there's no mission," said Plonski. "So the Paratroopers launch baseball bats, which have the bottom-heavy feel of the Raven, until they are able to throw straight and far. After a sturdy launch, the aircraft takes over and pulls itself up to altitude."

With the Raven, Soldiers are able to respond to accurate intelligence rather than an attack, said Plonski. It provides a multi-dimensional eye on the enemy, much further than what a Paratrooper views directly in front of him, ultimately sparing lives, he said.

(Sgt. Amanda Jackson serves with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs Office)

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16