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214th Fires Brigade debuts unmanned aerial vehicle

FORT SILL, Okla. -- Though it has been used for years in war environments, the 214th Fires Brigade was the first active-duty unit to debut the Raven Unmanned Aerial Vehicle on Fort Sill, June 10.

"This Raven UAV can extend a commander's ability to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance missions over extended open areas in a fraction of the time that it would take to go and search any given area, with no Soldiers and far less risk," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joseph Kemna, a brigade targeting officer.

Kemna and Pfc. Taylor Sawatzky were recently certified to operate the Raven, and used a brigade field training exercise to further their practice. The Department of Defense has been experimenting with UAVs since 1985, resulting in numerous models being produced by private companies worldwide. These range from large fixed-wing and rotary-winged aircraft to small hand-launched units no bigger than a model airplane.

The Raven weighs in at 4.5 pounds with a 5-foot wingspan and stretches 38 inches in length. It is one of the smallest UAVs the Army uses, but is regarded as one of the best. The Raven has flown over Iraq and Afghanistan searching for IEDs, providing reconnaissance for patrols and serving as eyes on the perimeter of camps.

"Though this UAV is extremely small, it's still big enough to carry a high-resolution, night-vision or infrared heat-sensing camera, global positioning system and transmitter to send the visual information back to those authorized to view it," said Kemna.

If the Raven picks up anything that seems suspicious, it is equipped with the GPS coordinate tracking software that can immediately tell commanders where the activity is taking place. This allows them the opportunity to know exactly what they are facing before they arrive. Because they have this knowledge, they know what to bring to the fight.

"The Raven works well with mounted or dismounted patrols in cities and small towns because it can provide not only far-sight security, but also gives a live feed to those commanders working in the operations center," Kemna said.

Sawatzky said if the Raven ever loses contact with the controller, it has an automatic return to launch point mode. With the single touch of a button, the controller can recall the UAV.

"Even if the battery runs out, it is going to make its way back to us here, which is good since it can only stay in the sky for an hour," he said.

The Soldiers threw the Raven into flight, allowing the leadership in the operations center the ability to view their battalion's positions during their field training exercise from high above. They also took still photos that were used to document movements and how formations were set. The small plane cruises at 26 knots but can get up to 44 knots, allowing it to cross a grid square in less than a minute.

"This system only takes one trained Soldier and one additional Soldier to operate. With this Toughbook here we can decide where we want it to go, and the operator who is viewing the Raven's feed can either manually guide it or we can use the computer to decide its route," said Sawatzky.

On the touch screen of the Toughbook, all an operator has to do is touch it with a stylus and drag points to where they want the plane to go.

A hand controller is used to manually fly or monitor the flight of a Raven. The controller has a hood to allow viewing in the sun, along with controls that look similar to a video game controller that has seven buttons- throttle, menu select, enter, a joystick, hot key, screen capture and payload control. The screen displays several types of data, including a 10-digit grid of the plane's location, altitude, range and bearing from the home waypoint, heading and speed, camera view indicator, zoom level, flight altitude winds and flight time.

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