Virginia unmanned aerial system platoon resets after Afghanistan deployment

Virginia Guard Soldiers from the Bowling Green-based Detachment 1, Company B, 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team reset and requalify on their RQ-7B Shadow tactical unmanned aerial systems Nov. 1 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, Md. – Fourteen Virginia Guard Soldiers traveled north to Maryland in October to requalify on their RQ-7B Shadow tactical unmanned aerial systems as part of their post-deployment reset training. The Soldiers, from the Bowling Green-based Detachment 1, Company B, 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, trained at Webster Field, part of Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Oct. 14 – Nov. 4, reacquainting themselves with their Shadows as weather permitted, and riding out Hurricane Sandy when it didn’t.

“The hurricane kind of delayed us,” said Sgt. Eric Mehaffey, a standardization instructor operator in the unit. “We weren’t able to fly because of it, but the first week was great.”

The training conducted in Maryland aimed to both familiarize the Soldiers with the two new aircraft the unit received following their deployment to Afghanistan last year and to requalify both aircraft maintainers and operators, several of whom are new to the unit.

“The goal of being out here is to reset our equipment and to get our people certified,” explained Staff Sgt. Anne Korsness, acting platoon sergeant. “Our computer logbook system has changed, so some of the things in there are new for the guys, and we have two new people straight out of school, so they’re getting actual [on the job training] on the birds that they didn’t get in school and that’s really exciting for them I think.”

A primary difference seen in the new Shadows is the 1102 fuel-injected engines, an upgrade that, according to Mehaffey, eliminates carburetor issues seen in the previous aircraft’s 1101 engines. Additional changes include increased endurance, or IE, wings that boost the Shadow’s wingspan from 14 feet to 20 feet and allow for an additional three hours of flight time.

Aircraft operators practiced launching, flying and landing the IE-equipped Shadows, while maintainers and operators both learned the new system’s capabilities and requirements.

“For our maintainers, this is something new for them as well,” Korsness said. “Whereas they’re used to filling up 44 liters of fuel, now they’re at 58 liters and there’s a whole lot of other limitations with the new wings that the operators have to conform to as well.”

The Virginia Soldiers traveled to Maryland to make use of the Maryland National Guard’s facility, which is the closest available flight line.

“Maryland has been very good and they’ve supported us well thus far,” Mehaffey said. “They’ve helped us get frequencies, assisted us with airspace and flying facilities and all the other local things we’ve needed to accomplish.”

The Shadows are primarily used as eyes in the sky and can help aid in identifying potential dangers and alerting ground troops to those dangers, potentially saving the lives of military members.

“There’s a lot of lives for the infantry and for the Soldiers on the ground that are at stake. To mitigate those losses we can give them a bird’s eye view of what dangers to anticipate. That alerts them to what they need to do to get prepared for that, or what they can do to avoid it,” Korsness explained. “I think we save a lot of lives doing that.”

To view photos of the traing, visit:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/vaguardpao/sets/72157631918815430/