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Dragon Eye provides quick, reliable intel

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 2005120103142
Story by Lance Cpl. Matthew K. Hacker

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Jan. 12, 2005) -- In 2003, the Marine Corps adopted the smallest functioning unmanned aerial vehicle called the Dragon Eye in 2003, in an effort to minimize friendly casualties and maximize pre-movement surveillance.

The Dragon Eye is a UAV specifically designed to follow a predetermined mission into questionable areas to deliver a bird's eye view of its surroundings with two near-real-time video cameras.

Sergeant William Hartzfeld of Jacksonville, Fla., the Dragon Eye instructor with Marine Corps System Command, is the sole Dragon Eye instructor in the Marine Corps. He conducts a five-day course every week on the proper procedures and techniques to operate to remote controlled surveillance machines.

The course is offered to any military occupational specialty field, upon the individual command's discretion.

"A lot of [infantry] units are going through the course," said Hartzfeld. "Any rank, any [Military Occupational Specialty], any person given the right training can operate it."

The Dragon Eye system will soon be utilized at a company level, according to Hartzfeld.

Proper operation of the system takes a two-man team - one man to assemble the aircraft and one man to get the ground control station up and running.

The GCS - a computer system designed to control and operate the aircraft from the ground - is a touch screen, laptop computer with wireless satellite connections, which sends signals to the plane. The operator can view the video through a pair of goggles connected to the GCS.

There are three interchangeable nose cameras including one for low-light situations such as dusk and dawn, one for regular daylight and an infrared nose used for night launches.

One camera is mounted inside the nose of the plane and a second is located on the left side. While the nose camera can move any direction, the left camera can only point straight, but delivers an eight-digit grid at the center point of the video.

Its small size and aerodynamic design allow it to be a hard target while executing a mission.

The Dragon Eye has been in production for three years, and the Marine Corps fielded it in two, according to Hartzfeld.

"That's nearly unheard of," Hartzfeld added. "It usually takes things a lot longer to get fielded, but this was a quick asset."

Solely composed of fiberglass and Kevlar and made of five pieces including a fuselage, a tail, a nose and two wings, the Dragon Eye is primarily used in missions to take pictures of supposed improvised explosive device strips and bunkers on buildings invisible from the ground.

The new UAV continues to be used in Iraq, according to Hartzfeld.
"They're actually using Dragon Eye photos for their [intelligence] briefs now," said Hartzfeld. "That's how useful this aircraft's work is."

Hartzfeld, though having not deployed, has been training Marines on the Dragon Eye since May 2004. He spent six months at Twentynine Palms, Calif., last summer conducting his course and is scheduled to go there again this summer.

"Even though I'm not in Iraq, I know the work I'm doing is saving lives over there," said Hartzfeld.

This UAV can reach speeds of 35 miles-per-hour, altitudes of 1,000 feet and distances of 10 kilometers. It weighs approximately six pounds fully assembled and spans wing-to-wing at three feet. Its maximum endurance rate is approximately 60 minutes, while 45 minutes is nominal.

Overall, the Dragon Eye, having one year apart of Marine Corps family, has already proved itself worthy as a "must have" piece of equipment in Iraq, according to Hartzfeld.

"This machine is definitely going to enhance battlefield capabilities and the survivability rates all the way up to a company level and maybe even battalion," said Cpl. Robert Broome, forward scout observer with Company C, 2d Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion and a student of the course Jan. 10 to14. "It's a quick peek into the future prior to any attacks."

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