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Raven B has landed in Southwest Asia

by Master Sgt. Ruby Zarzyczny
380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

10/11/2007 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- A small unmanned aerial vehicle is now being used to increase the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing's force protection capabilities.

Maintained and operated by the 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, the Raven B is the wing's sixth and smallest aircraft, weighing 4.2 pounds with a wing span of 65 inches and a length of 35 inches. It is used by security forces Airmen for reconnaissance and surveillance, force protection, battle damage assessment and convoy security missions. It has the capability to take still photos or live video from the time of launch to the time of recovery.

"Initially it will be used here to get eyes on the area where the enemy could launch a man-portable air-defense systems surface-to-air missile or other weapon at the aircraft or runway," said 1st Lt. Daryl Crosby, the 380th ESFS Force Protection Airborne Surveillance System program, officer in charge. "With this airframe we can increase our force protection through aerial monitoring of the (surface-to-air missile) footprint."

"The FPASS program isn't new to security forces, however the Raven B is, and its capabilities far exceed the previous air frame, the Desert Hawk," Lieutenant Crosby said. "The Army has been using this airframe in the (area of responsibility), and now the Air Force has adopted the technology."

"It allows you to see targets or threats before we send out patrols or convoys to a particular location," said Staff Sgt. Karlo Arenivas, the 380th ESFS FPASS NCO in charge. "It's pretty incredible to know what's on the other side of the hill before you go over it. The SUAV allows you a beyond line-of-sight view of the battlefield."

The Raven B has unlimited launching capabilities. It can be launched from moving vehicles, roof tops, or any open area. It can be deployed in a backpack to be jumped or marched into combat. The system is designed to be set up and launched in minutes. The SUAV is designed to break apart on impact, minimizing damage by distributing the impact energy.

The SUAV has two modes of operation. Vehicle operators can remotely control the aircraft from a handset, just like a pilot controls a regular aircraft, or it can be controlled in navigation mode where the desired mission specifications are preloaded and the vehicle flies a mission on its own.

"During a (remotely controlled) mission the vehicle operator is concentrating on his video feed to determine where the aircraft is flying in relation to the grid points entered into the system," Sergeant Arenivas said. "On the laptop you'll have detailed maps of the area the SUAV is flying in and another pull down screen with live video feed."

When the aircraft is flying the mission operator is monitoring the video feed and taking still photos.

In navigation mode, the mission operator pre-loads the Raven B with the desired altitude, flight path and time for it to take live video. The Raven B is launched by the mission controller and flies the rest of the mission on its own, sending telemetry back to mission control and enabling end-product users to track the location and field of view through a graphical interface.

The mission operator monitors the distance, range and bearing of the aircraft during the mission, and keeps a close eye on the battery life to make sure the aircraft can get where it needs to go and back.

There are three different systems connected to the Raven B that receive the live video feed. This video is displayed on screens monitored by the mission operator and vehicle operator.

The Raven B is a good tool for convoy security because the aircraft can be operated while the convoy is moving and get real time video providing an eye in the sky, recording and alerting the convoy to threats or anything suspicious in the areas ahead.

Another unique capability of the Raven B is that the photos it captures can be used as a measuring tool.

"We can take these photos when we see an area of interest and use the range and bearing tool to measure the distance between two objects," Airman Gould said. "When you're out on patrol you can take a picture and then put two way points on objects, say a building and vehicle in the picture. Then you can calculate the actual distance between the two objects."

This ability aids in the up channeling of target data, ensuring very specific and detailed information is delivered to leadership about areas of interest or concern.

"It can actually give you detailed coordinates for target identification and target location," Airmen Gould said. "If security forces are about 300 meters away from a target to engage, the Raven B can fly ahead to help ground troops get eyes on areas of vulnerability and engage the correct target. It can also take two unknown areas and develop range and grid coordinates for an area of interest or potential targets. Ground troops can also plot their targets from the information gained from the Raven B."

The live video feed can also be sent to other locations.

"The system can be linked wirelessly to your Base Defense Operation Center," Lieutenant Crosby said. "Commanders, operations officers and base leaders can get real-time video feed to make split second decisions. Pictures and video taken by the Raven B can also be recorded to DVD, or sent via e-mail."

The Raven B also has in-flight emergency procedures.

"If the aircraft stops sending signal or we lose signal with the aircraft, it will automatically switch into 'home mode'. Then Raven B will automatically return to where it was launched or a pre-designated location in case your unit is on the move," Sergeant Arenivas said.

"It also has a 'Falcon Tracker' which is a small disc with an eight-inch antenna on it that is attached to the tail of the aircraft," Airman Gould said. "If the aircraft goes down, the Falcon Tracker puts a signal out to help track and retrieve it."

"I think it's pretty exciting to be selected to be part of a new Air Force SUAV program," Airman Gould said. "I am looking forward to flying it and seeing just what its capabilities are and how it will impact the mission here."

"I have experience with the FPASS program from when we used the Desert Hawk air frame," Lieutenant Crosby said. "I am very pleased to see the Raven B employed in the AOR because it is leaps and bounds ahead of the technology that we had before. The capabilities are great. The Raven B is a legitimate SUAV, and it's a great force protection tool."

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