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Service members train on unmanned aircraft

June 3, 2011

By Drew Hamilton

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Service members trained on small unmanned air vehicles at White Sands Missile Range the Week of May 23rd.

Attending classes at WSMR’s Stallion Range camp the service member learned how to operate the Tarantula Hawk Micro Air Vehicle. The T-hawk is intended to be used by Soldiers on the ground to support reconnaissance, security, and route clearance operations. “It really gives them a unique perspective being able to have an eye in the sky and have a very easily operate UAV at the small unit level,” said James Nickerson, a senior system engineer and T-hawk trainer with Honeywell international. Training for the Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen consisted of two days of classroom instruction with the rest of the week set aside for hands on training in the flight and maintenance of the aircraft.

The T-hawk is a Micro Aerial Vehicle built by Honeywell Aerospace, is capable of taking off and landing vertically and hovering like a helicopter. This ability to hold a position in the air is what makes the T-hawk different from other UAVs like the Predator UAV. Conventionally designed UAVs that perform like airplanes have to circle an area of interest form an appropriate altitude. The T-hawk can hover in place and transmit video back to the operator, giving Service members a stable live feed that won’t change unless the operator wants it to. “This provides with several capabilities, this hover and view and eye in the sky capability will have several applications in Iraq as well as possibly at home station as well,” said Master Sgt. Michael Yates, an EOD flight superintendent from the 647th Civil Engineer Squadron at Hickam Air Force Base in HI. The T-hawk can carry a number of useful items to a Service member, including swappable day and night camera modules allowing the T-hawk to be used any time of day or night.

While exact tactics and techniques for using the T-hawk are still being developed the MAV is already seeing combat in places like Afghanistan by many different units. “This is a joint service venture, it’s not just the Air Force, we’re all in it together. So the program as a whole is taking off, there are some units in Afghanistan that have been using them for some time,” Yates said. While similar UAVs have been in testing on WSMR for various different kinds of Army units, the T-hawks use by EOD Service members seems a natural fit. “In EOD we’re well versed in robotics and robotic theory, this works very well in conjunction with other remote capabilities. It’s very similar to our other robotics, you just have to watch the altitude (with the T-hawk).” Yates said with a grin. Yates explained that like its tracked counterparts the T-hawk can be used to observe or investigate locations and items without risking the life of a Service member.

Usually training of this kind is conducted at Condron Airfield on the southern end of the range, but this time the training had to be moved up to Stallion to keep Condron free for the Network Integration Evaluation beginning soon.

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