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Marines take to the skies - remotely

US Marine Corps News

By Lance Cpl. Bryan J. Nygaard, II MEF

In just five days, Marines from 2nd Air-Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, II Marine Expeditionary Force, learned to fly a military aircraft. However, these Marines will never fly for more than one consecutive hour or higher than 1,000 feet above the ground. In fact, the Marines will never even step foot inside a cockpit.

Thirteen Marines from 2nd ANGLICO recently spent five days learning to become certified operators of the Raven-B unmanned aerial vehicle aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Their training regimen consisted of two days in the classroom and three days at Camp Lejeune’s Tactical Landing Zone Falcon flying the Raven-B, a 4-pound remote-controlled aircraft used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

“We take the Marines through assembly, disassembly, flight characteristics, flight operation, emergency procedures, air space coordination, mission planning and a class on falcon view [the perspective operators have while using the aircraft],” said Tom Etchey, a senior analyst with Applied Techniques Corporation and one of the Marines’ instructors.

By day four of the training, the Marines had learned to find targets on the ground and gather as much information on them as possible while still in flight. Executing such missions is no small task.

“We plan the mission, prep the plane, do all the pre-flight inspections, and fly the mission,” said Capt. Wendell Farmer, an artillery officer with 2nd ANGLICO, who was receiving his certification to fly the Raven-B. “We then gather the intelligence on the target we’ve been assigned. For the final graded event, the instructor steps back and grades us on mission building and the execution of the mission.”

Two Marines coordinate Raven-B missions. The vehicle operator controls the UAV by use of a viewfinder device and directional pad. The mission operator uses a laptop linked to the Raven to communicate pertinent mission information such as location, elevation and battery life to the vehicle operator. The information seen by the Raven is recorded for later analysis or streamed to remote viewers.

“Seeing is believing,” said Farmer. “The guys who are out there are able to provide near real-time imagery of what’s going on around their battle space at any given time.”

Farmer said once the real-time imagery is collected, ground forces can more efficiently plan missions and observe enemy movement patterns to help keep Marines on the ground out of harm’s way. The Marines flew the Raven-B in a variety of lighting and wind conditions – all designed to prepare them to operate in any situation.

“They’re doing really well,” explained Farmer. “They’re exceeding a lot of the instructors’ expectations with their ability to maintain and maneuver in adverse conditions.”

Cpl. Greg Robbins, a radio operator with 2nd ANGLICO, said he benefited from the training and hopes to use it the next time he deploys to a combat zone.

“This is very good training,” said Robbins. “This is perfect for ANGLICO’s job as a fire support unit … to go out there and look for targets. I’m happy I got this opportunity to be UAV-certified."

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