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Minnesota National Guard
UAV unit ground proficiency ensures airborne success

Minnesota National Guard CAMP RIPLEY, Minn- A platoon of 34th Infantry Division Soldiers, tasked with operating the Shadow 200 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle since 2004, began a block of New Equipment Training to learn upgraded features of the Shadow UAV at the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operation Facility at Camp Ripley, July 23, 2013

"The Shadow is used for imaging, surveillance and reconnaissance," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jamie Houdek, Unmanned Aerial Systems operating technician "Before we start our Annual Training next week, we're here to get spun up on the new capabilities of the aircraft"

The typical Shadow configuration consists of a 14-foot wingspan that allows for six hours of flight, Houdek said The new 19-foot wing design, which can be swapped in to replace the 14-foot design by utilizing the UAV's modular design, will give the aircraft roughly nine hours of fuel life

Before any new training could begin, however, one flight crew from 3rd Platoon, A Co, 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 34th Infantry Division, prepped the standard configuration of UAV for a familiarization flight But before even that could happen, the four-man flight crew meticulously went through pre-flight check after pre-flight check, a safety measure that has benchmarked a tangible record of incident-free flights

"Since we've been home we haven't lost a bird," said Sgt Cody Anderson, UAV aerial operator, referring to the unit's first deployment in 2004-05 to Iraq

"We also deployed to Afghanistan in 2012," Houdek said "Overseas, the UAV can aid our forces in many ways"

Those capacities include the ability to act as a mobile relay unit for patrols trying to get a radio signal over mountainous terrain, watch for enemy forces on rooftops and weapons smuggling in border areas and even lead friendly forces home using laser guidance - one of several payload features, Houdek said All this can be accomplished by remaining completely tactical, as the entire Shadow UAV System can be transported by truck and needing only 500 feet of gravel runway to land

These assets are provided by the 30-man platoon with almost zero risk to human life, with each flight overseen by operators working in either a Ground Control Station or Portable GCS, Houdek said Flights begin with the 375-pound aircraft hurling off a hydraulic rail launcher, are sustained by the crew operating the aircraft remotely and end with the Tactical Automated Landing System bringing the bird safely down via autopilot

"During flight, there's a lot going on at once," Anderson said "There are usually four people talking to you while you're operating the UAV

"If you're not good at multitasking, something could get missed"

But missing isn't something the Soldier's of the UAV unit do By logging hundreds of launch, flight and recovery hours, in addition to employing strict safety standards, the unit minimizes risk while maintaining a high level of proficiency - a level that will be notched up after the latest upgrade features are mastered

August 2, 2013
by Staff Sgt Patrick Loch
34th Infantry Division Public Affairs

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