Military Photo: Shadow 200

By U.S. Army Sgt. Merrion LaSonde / 122nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

CAMP COOKE, Iraq, Aug. 25, 2004 � You can�t see it. You can�t hear it, but it�s there. And it�s watching.

The Shadow 200 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, operated and maintained by a slice element of the 312th Military Intelligence Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, has become as important to successful combat operations in Iraq as tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and .50 Caliber machine guns.

The information collected from the Shadow�s �bird�s eye view� has proven invaluable in countering actions by Anti-Iraqi Forces. During one particular surveillance mission, the vehicle collected data on a group of insurgents who had been mortaring a logistics base. It then relayed the information to a Kiowa crew who located the vehicle, followed it to a safe distance away from the local populace and destroyed the vehicle.

Within the hour, ground combat forces went in to the area where the vehicle had been destroyed and began a cordon and search operation, attempting to locate any more insurgents that might have been hiding in the area.

�The [unmanned aerial vehicle] has been fantastically helpful overall,� said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Scott Sherman, Kiowa pilot, 1st Squadron, 7th Aviation Regiment. �They are able to loiter in one area longer than aircraft can and they have good day and night sight and can see exactly what people are doing. They caught these guys launching mortars at a [Forward Operating Base]. They fly so high you can�t see or hear them.�

Primarily used for surveillance missions in and around Baghdad, the Shadow 200 has a wingspan of about 13 feet and an overall weight of 350 pounds. It can fly as high as 14,000 feet at 70 knots for as long as four hours at a time. With nearly 2,000 flight hours racked up so far, the vehicles and their pilots have proven themselves as indispensable to the mission�s success.

�Every mission we fly, we have some specific requirements,� said Cpl. Frank Petersen, a standardization and instructor pilot with the unmanned aerial vehicle platoon. �If we don�t know what they are looking for, what good is the reconnaissance? We will have the area they want us to fly in and the target description from our mission brief. We stay in constant contact with the unit or brigade that we are flying in support of, so when we see something that looks like their target, we give them the description and the grid. At that point, they will either send in their [quick reaction force], or air support.�

The platoon is the only military occupational specialty where enlisted personnel can be pilots. Toward the end of their nearly eight months of training at Fort Huachuca, Az., the students are required to complete 10 successful flights on the simulator.

�The [Federal Aviation Association] approves our curriculum,� Petersen, a Petal, Miss. native, said.

�By the time we are done with the school, all we lack for our civilian pilots license is the 40 hours of actual flight time.�

Once completed with their training the students are certified as both pilots and co-pilots. The pilot is the primary vehicle operator and �flies� the aircraft; the co-pilot is the mission payload operator and operates the camera. This team has averaged three flights per day in the past two weeks.

�We go anywhere and support just about any operation,� said Petersen. �We have assisted with raids, cordon and searches and counter-[improvised explosive device] operations. Another of our successes was we spotted a vehicle that had stopped on two or three overpasses consecutively. We reported that to the [quick reaction force] and when they stopped the vehicle, they found a lot of rockets and mortars.�

The unmanned aerial vehicle team works split-site operations. The team at Camp Cooke takes care of the launch and recovery and the crew at the supporting Brigade Headquarters takes over the vehicle once it is in the air.

Fielded from scratch almost a year ago, the platoon has put the vehicle through its paces. The hostile environments of Iraq have proven a challenge to the team as they regularly reach environmental limitations of the aircraft. Winds gust beyond 25 knots or temperature exceeding 122 degrees deadline a mission.

Even with the elements working against the platoon those who have worked with them come away from the experience impressed.

�We have never been let down by [an unmanned aerial vehicle],� Sherman said. Their intelligence gathering is beyond reproach.�

Posted: 09/01/2004

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