Guard shows off new drone

May 17, 2013 10:58 am
PENDLETON — The Oregon National Guard unveiled its latest cutting-edge war-fighting technology during a short demonstration flight of the RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle.

The RQ-7B is a critical resource for a commander in a war zone, such as Afghanistan, Oregon Guardsman and Pendleton resident Sgt. Sean Fuqua said.

“In combat they want us up 24/7,” he said.

Faqua and his crew of Guardsmen from Detachment 1, Bravo Company, 41st Brigade Combat Team, were on hand at the event Tuesday to spearhead a demonstration for local media and other officials at the flight facility. Guard leaders said there will be four RQ-7B’s eventually stationed at the Pendleton flight facility. The UAVs will be used exclusively for training, Oregon Guard Lt. Col. Alan Gronewold, the commander of the Pendleton flight facility, said.

“We are not doing testing or research with them. And we are not flying them for any outside sources,” he said.

The RQ-7B is about 11 feet long and boasts a 14-foot wingspan. The unmanned aerial vehicle weighs about 400 pounds and can fly up to 15,000 feet while it utilizes two cameras, including an infrared device, to be the eyes of a ground commander in a combat zone. Unlike the bigger Predator unmanned vehicles used by the military to hunt down terrorists, the RQ-7B is strictly an information-gathering platform for Guardsmen in combat and is not armed. 

The event marked another milestone for the Guard. 

The flight of the RQ-7B was the culmination of a multi-year certification process between the Oregon Guard and the Federal Aviation Administration designed to allow flights of UAVs outside of military airspace. Until this week, the Guard was limited to using the U.S. Navy’s Boardman Training Area. Now, in the wake of FAA approval, the Guardsmen secure more flexibility regarding practice with the UAVs.

“It really broadens our training ability. We can train right here,” Gronewold said.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mark Braeme, the commander of Det. 1 Bravo Company, said the capability to train at the Pendleton airport is easier for the Guard and cheaper in the long run for Eastern Oregon taxpayers.

“Normally we flew out of Boardman. That took three or four days to set up,” he said. “Here we can set up and train in one day.”

Sgt. Eric Smidt, another member of Det. 1, Bravo Company, said the Guard is restricted regarding how low the RQ-7B can fly.

“We are not allowed to do any flights, other than takeoffs and landings, below 2,000 to 4,000 feet,” he said.

Guard leaders said the UAV training will be a gradual process.

“We will ease into it. We have to be comfortable with it, take it slow, fly safe,” Braeme said.

Gronewold said the ceremony Tuesday was significant for another reason.

“We’ve also shown the world you can integrate manned and unmanned aviation operations in the national airspace system,” he said.