WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii -- In the early hours of Sept. 14, unmanned aircraft systems operators and maintainers pushed their aircraft out of a hangar at the start of the day.
Soldiers assigned to the Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (TUAS) Platoon, Company D, 29th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, perform daily checks on their RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle, a small, lightweight UAV that provides invaluable service for the battalions of the 3rd BCT.
"It's designed to do tactical reconnaissance, so it can do full motion video with color and (infrared) at night," said 1st Lt. Sara M. Downing, TUAS platoon leader. "It can also do a communication relay package encrypted, so it acts like a giant relay in the sky."
According to Downing, the UAV can laser designate from man/unmanned teams with the ability to work with the AH-64 Apache or other aircraft that use the AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles.
"It can point onto a target with a laser, and then the Hellfire missile locks on to that laser, guiding it right on the target," she said.
The TUAS platoon doesn't use the nimble aircraft just to perform an offensive role; the Shadow can stay in the sky for several consecutive hours to perform an active reconnaissance role.
"For training missions, we do a lot of convoy tracking," said Spc. Connor Rawlings, unmanned aircraft systems operator, TUAS platoon, Company D, 29th BEB. "We'll follow the convoy and scout ahead."
The operators, depending on their task, also conduct passive reconnaissance when the mission requires it.
"We'll do straight target watching," Rawlings said. "If division or brigade wants us to watch a target -- they see an individual in a certain area they know of -- but they don't know exactly where he is in a compound."
The operators themselves work as two-man teams with the UAV during preflight checks and in flight.
"Typically, for a launch, you'll have an assigned operator," said Sgt. Kenneth Vierk, unmanned aircraft systems operator, Company D, 29th BEB. "We're going to have one managing the aircraft itself, and then the other personnel will strictly be operating the payload."
According to Vierk, the second operator manages the radio calls and everything else, so the first operator can monitor the Shadow while in flight.
The repairers, while performing preflight checks, communicate via radio with the operators to ensure the Shadow is good to go before being placed on a hydraulic rail launcher for takeoff.
"I crew chief the bird," said Spc. Dennis Blozen, unmanned aircraft systems repairer, Company D. "Which means, when they're doing their preflight checks, I'm the guy on the ground next to the bird making sure it's doing what they're telling it to do in their control shelter."
Blozen personally found the system easy to use and maintain, rapid to set up, and quick to get in the air to support the mission.
The members of the TUAS platoon pride themselves on their ability to get the job done for all the battalions in the brigade.
"Probably, the coolest part of what we do is we get to integrate all across the brigade combat team," Downing said. "We get to see all the different battalions and work with them. We have to understand their mission sets in order to properly support them. So having to integrate with so many different (military occupational specialties) is probably, I would say, the most interesting part of the job."