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Cutting edge UAS technology launches at Fort Rucker

By Mollie Miller /Army Flier

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (TRADOC News Service, Sept. 24, 2007) -- Soldiers and civilians from the Aviation Technical Test Center took their first steps into the future of Army Aviation Sept. 13 as they officially launched a Shadow Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for the first time into the skies above Fort Rucker.

Although Shadow UAVs have already logged more than 200,000 combat flight hours, Thursday’s symbolic flight represented the first time the UAV has officially flown at Fort Rucker.  

“With today’s flight, we establish a flight test capability of the Shadow Unmanned Aerial System here at Fort Rucker and we take our first steps toward the eventual testing of many more Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems and associated systems in the future,” said Col. Chris Sullivan, ATTC commander. 

Today, 1,531 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are flying more than 14,000 missions every month in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. The majority of these missions, approximately 80 percent according to ATTC officials, are conducted by Army units.  

“Now that the Army is engaging UAVs in a big way, we felt like it was very important for the Army to have its own organic developmental test capability for UAVs,” said Rob Stone, division chief of the UAS test at ATTC. “This Shadow represents the first of what we hope is a series of UAVs (that will come) to Fort Rucker.”

The missions of the Shadow UAVs typically revolve around reconnaissance and surveillance. The small unmanned vehicles normally operate between 6,000 and 10,000 feet above the ground transmitting data back to controllers in a special trailer that looks like a small cockpit inside. 

“(This Shadow) is a symbol of what’s good with the Army and what’s good with Fort Rucker,” said Col. Walter Golden, U.S. Army Aviation Warfighting Center and Fort Rucker deputy command general. “I have witnessed the employment of UASs in Operation Iraqi Freedom and (the vehicles) save lives by keeping Soldiers out of harm’s way while performing the critical tasks of reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition.”

During Thursday’s event, VIPs from Fort Rucker and the Wiregrass had the opportunity to inspect ATTC’s latest acquisition. 

Rep. Terry Everett, R-Rehobeth, was a special guest at Thursday’s ceremonial launch. Everett said the War on Terror is an unconventional war that calls for unconventional tactics and the unmanned systems are exactly what the troops need to fight and win.

“The War on Terror is being fought and will be won by both boots on the ground as well as evolving high tech weapons (like the Shadow UAV),” he said. “UAVs give us a remarkable look at the enemy (and are) the way of the future.”

Representatives from the Shadow UAS team offered information throughout the event about the system’s current status and what the future might hold for the vehicle.

“This system will be used to develop tactics, techniques and procedures to work manned and unmanned teaming initiatives, and to establish and develop safety enhancements for all unmanned systems starting with the Shadow,” Sullivan said. 

Stone said there are several tests already on the books for the Shadow. Among the tests scheduled to begin at Fort Rucker in the coming months is one that will focus on trying to “pump” video from the Shadow into the front seat of an AH-64 Longbow Apache as well as one that will test a new UAV laser designator system.  

“What’s really going to be exploited here is that manned, unmanned teaming and how the aviator gets in the loop with the UAV,” Stone said. “The future is going to be very busy (for this team).”