DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- Students from Dugway High School were treated to an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the Rapid Integration and Acceptance Center (RIAC) Feb. 23 as part of a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) outreach program sponsored by Dugway Proving Ground's test center.

"These programs are a terrific way for us to share the remarkable test programs Dugway offers," said Col. Sean Kirschner, Dugway Proving Ground's commander. "We are excited to advance the STEM programing to our school and hope to extend these outreach efforts to more communities."

Dugway is located 75 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, has nearly 800,000 acres, which is mostly of sparse desert terrain, level salt flats, patchy sand dunes and rugged mountains. The students primarily live in English Village and attend the Dugway High School.

"We are excited to have you come today," welcomed Jenny Gillum, RIAC director. "Our goal is to encourage you to look at fields of study that are badly needed in the engineering and scientific communities."

The RIAC reports to the U.S. Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems Project Office, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala. But Dugway's specialized test ranges and its massive restricted airspace--about 90 miles by 70 miles and an elevation of up to 58,000 feet--is free from urban encroachment and population pressures make it a great place to train its operators.

A Textron engineer with RIAC gave the students an overview of the Shadow RQ-7B Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System and the larger Gray Eagle and Hunter systems and
training at the center.

"We are also excited to announce that sometime in May the RIAC will reach its two million flight hours," Gillum said. "We're going to show you why we are so proud of this accomplishment."

The Gray Eagle and the Hunter are medium altitude, long endurance unmanned aircraft. They gather data in real time to provide tactical information to commanders and Soldiers for situational awareness so they can plan and execute combat operations.

The RIAC provides specialized training for operators to learn to control these sophisticated
sensors and electronics, the engineer said. They support division fires
and provide battlefield surveillance for brigade combat teams and Army Special
Operations forces.

"This is why we like to talk with students who might be interested in studying science
and engineering," he said. "These operators training here are only a few years older
than you and it may be something you want to consider."

After the overview, students were taken to a nearby hangar for an up-close look at
The Shadow RQ7B. The Shadow has been extensively fielded by the Army for
reconnaissance, surveillance, targeting, and battlefield assessments.

In the hangar was an opened Shadow to allow students to peer inside at the avionics
technology, and ask questions about its capabilities.

The up-close look gave the students a better understanding of the engineering and
mechanics it takes to fly these 375-pound, high wing, twin v-tail rudder aircraft, which
can land on an area half the length of a football field.

"That's very cool," said one student as others around him nodded in agreement.

To help students understand the technology better by seeing it in action, Gillum led the
students outside beyond the hangars to a large metal connex, which holds the common
Ground Control Station (GCS).

Students learned that its operations are controlled using the Common Control System,
a software platform that operators use to see in real time, collect imagery and other
information that would benefit Soldiers on the battlefield.

The GCS is a network hub, essentially a cockpit on the ground, usually located on or
near a runway. At Dugway, the RIAC uses the Michael Army Airfield to take off and land.
But a GCS could also be located near the battle ground or on a larger military base located
hundreds of miles away.

"You can see how this would enhance the relay skills of Soldiers," Gillum said to students
waiting for a turn inside the OCS. "Seeing what's on the ground is a huge advantage in
protecting our Warfighters."

The typical ground station has at least two consoles--one for the aircraft operator and
one for the payload operator. Missions can be completely preplanned, yet the onboard
computers allow for an operator to take control the flight using a mouse and keyboard.

Gillum noted if should something go wrong, the operators are "extremely well trained" in
air traffic control and flight dynamics.

To top off the tour, students watched as a Hunter and a Gray Eagle flew sorties over
the airfield. They were surprised by the quiet droning of the engines.

"So if you are interested in math, physics and technology this may be something to
consider as you head for college," Gillum added.