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'Raven' sees all in battle

Feb 16, 2011

By Vince Little, The Bayonet

FORT BENNING, Ga. - At first glance, the small unmanned aerial vehicle looks as harmless as a remote-control airplane buzzing around a city park. But the "Raven" is a real heavyweight on the battlefield, instructors said.

E Company, 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, will wrap up another Raven Operators Course on Thursday at Lee Field, a training area in the outskirts of Sand Hill. The 10-day course provides an introduction to the UAV system, complete with a how-to manual for Soldiers and basic flight capabilities.

"We give them basic operating skills," said Staff Sgt. Coriey Burkman, a senior instructor with the company. "We teach them how to use it so they can employ it when they get back to their units."

Soldiers come to Fort Benning from all over the world to learn about the "Raven," he said. The unit also dispatches mobile training teams to locales such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Alaska and Germany - and it teaches foreign armies on occasion.

The course's first two days involve classroom PowerPoints, but the "meat of the class is out here on site," Burkman said.

The 4.2-pound "Raven" can be strapped to a rucksack and launched with one hand from the mountains of Afghanistan or streets of Baghdad. The UAV has its own set of batteries and doesn't require an external power source. The system comes with spare parts and a repair kit.

Burkman said the vehicle's general range is 5 to 7 kilometers but it can go out 10 kilometers with a "unidirectional" flight plan. It operates at altitudes up to 10,000 feet.

"It provides real-time imagery as it's flying - there's not really a delay at all," he said. "What's happening is what you're seeing."

The Raven's "Falcon View" tracks everything on the ground and in the air. Its computer generates maps. The entire system is run by GPS.

The UAV needs two people to fly, Burkman said. The vehicle operator is out front, while the mission operator monitors telemetry, wind direction, aircraft warnings and other signals from behind a computer. Both Soldiers are looking at flight video.

The instructor said target acquisition, convoy security and battle damage assessment are among the Raven's primary surveillance uses in battle. The vehicle doesn't have wheels, so landing occurs via a "deep stall," he said.

"Not many people know that much about the Raven, but it's proven itself in combat," he said. "It's shown itself to be a reliable piece of equipment."

A dozen Soldiers are attending this Raven Operators Course. Most came from Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Lewis, Wash., but one is here from Germany. Several from Fort Bragg were gearing up for an Iraq deployment.

"It's a good system and it's going to help overseas when we deploy," said Pvt. Jason Brill of C Troop, 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment. "It could help pick up people planting IEDs or planning ambushes. We'll be able to see outside the wire, so we can plan our mission better and know what we're going into before we actually get there."

Pfc. Jeremiah Graham of Fort Bragg's 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, said his unit will operate the Raven during mounted patrols.

"We can hook it up to our Humvee, so we'll be able to fly it around ahead of us and check out areas we're moving into," he said.

Spc. Adam Stauss, also of 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, praised the instruction he got at Fort Benning.

"I've seen the Raven around before, but to get my hands on it and see some of the capabilities has been amazing," he said. "It's a great course. They do an awesome job getting everything easily understandable."

Two training sessions this week featured night operations, Burkman said. In the final exam, students must map out a flight plan and mission from scratch, fill out all the necessary paperwork and conduct crew briefings - just like they'd do in theater.

E Company, 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, is responsible for leading the Raven Master Trainer Course as well.

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