School trains future Raven UAV operators

By ANIESA HOLMESOctober 16, 2013

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FORT BENNING, Ga., (Oct. 16, 2013) -- Though small in size, the Raven RQ-11 unmanned aerial vehicle plays a major role in observing combat zones to prevent serious injuries on the battlefield. Instructors of the Small Unmanned Aircraft System School at Fort Benning train Soldiers how to properly use these vehicles for real-world missions.

Taught by E Company, 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, 197th Infantry Brigade, the SUAS operator course is one way that the school trains and certifies personnel to operate and perform maintenance tasks on the Raven SUAS.

The Raven is designed for rapid deployment and high mobility. With a wingspan of 4.5 feet and a weight of 4.2 pounds, the hand-launched system offers aerial observation at line-of-sight ranges up to 10 kilometers. Students get classroom and hands-on training consisting of day and night operations, maintenance, and practical or tactical employment and are assessed on their ability to operate the system. Upon successful completion of the course, students are presented an 80-hour certificate of instruction and a Raven SUAV operator's card, which is required to operate the Raven.

Staff Sgt. William Lewis, SUAS trainer, said instructors teach operators how to fly the aircraft as quickly and efficiently as possible.

"We have to do it in a two-week time frame," Lewis said. "It's very important that they hit those benchmark steps."

This includes 13 hours of classroom time and more than 60 hours of field time understanding various different dimensions and parts of Raven, using software for flight controllers and identifying emergency procedures in the event of a system malfunction in flight.

Students also get hands on training with the Visual and Mission Planning Integrated Rehearsal Environment simulator, or VAMPIRE. Students control the VAMPIRE in teams of two or three operators to mimic a flight while sitting in the classroom.

The most recent members in the course included students from the Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course, which aims to make new officers effective platoon leaders.

"With the Raven, you are able to get a view of what's in front of you and what's around you without using men on the ground -- ultimately the goal of that is to save lives," said 2nd Lt. Michael Gallegos. "You're able to gather information based on remote locations. Those locations might be more mountainous than expected, so we have the ability to get updated information based on that."

NCOs are also trained on proper operation of the Raven. Staff Sgt. Nolan Lovett, a member of A Company, 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, said safety is top priority for Soldiers.

"There's a great deal of information about air space safety and control so we can deconflict with other aircraft," he said. "It's a very small air vehicle, but if it flies into a manned aircraft it can have very catastrophic results. There's a lot of safety concerns involved in operating these vehicles."

The school also offers the SUAS master trainer course, which trains selected SUAS Raven operators from across the world, and in turn, are capable of teaching and evaluating academic and flight instruction. As the Army improves in technology on the battlefield, Gallegos said he hopes more Soldiers of various ranks are able to take advantage of the course.