Archive for April 25, 2011
Quoth the Raven Operator
When it comes to hand-launched surveillance drones, it doesn’t matter how big or strong you are, says a veteran operator of Army small unmanned aircraft systems (SUAS).
Sergeant First Class Jose Blanco, who has led soldiers operating the RQ-11 Raven SUAS during three deployments in Iraq, says he has trained men and women both short and tall to launch the 4.5-pound drone, which can be carried disassembled in a soldier’s backpack.
The Raven has been used by the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Special Operations Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The yard-long (38-inch) Raven, which has a 55-inch wingspan, is launched by throwing it into the air like a model airplane. But unlike a major league pitcher, Blanco says there are no advantages if the soldier launching the Raven is tall or has a strong arm.
“It’s very light. It’s all in the technique. We’ve had male and female soldiers graduate the course,” Blanco told a bloggers roundtable via telephone from a recent Army Aviation Association meeting in Nashville, Tenn.
In fact, says Blanco, he has even trained a war-injured soldier to launch and operate the Raven, the second-smallest drone (after the Wasp) in the Army’s unmanned aircraft inventory.
“We had a recent graduate of the course who was an amputee. There’s no restrictions on that, believe it or not,” said Blanco, a combat infantry veteran with more than 20 years in the military.
The Raven, manufactured by AeroVironment, is a low-level reconnaissance and surveillance drone with an electric motor powered by rechargeable lithium batteries. It can stay aloft for 60-90 minutes. It carries electro-optical and infrared (night vision) cameras that can transmit images from beyond a ground unit’s line-of-sight via a ground station operator to both troops on the ground and attack helicopter pilots in flight. It can show small units what’s over the next hill or around the next corner in urban areas.
Blanco said his “passion for this job” stems from his combat infantry experiences. “I lost a lot of friends, saw a lot of guys step on IEDs (improvised explosive devices), get blown up. If I can prevent that from happening to another ground troop, then this is the best job to do,” he said.