Magazine article National Defense

Unmanned Aircraft Training Battalion Gears Up for Gray Eagle

Magazine article National Defense

Unmanned Aircraft Training Battalion Gears Up for Gray Eagle

Article excerpt

FORT HUACHUCA, ARIZ.--As war commanders demand more unmanned aircraft systems to support ground units, the Army is preparing to accommodate a surge of trainees during the next few years.

The service is fielding more RQ-7B Shadow platoons and in 2012 will deploy its first MQ-1C Gray Eagle company. That means hundreds more students will be coming to the Army's sole UAS training facility here in the middle of the Huachuca Mountains' bucolic foothills in southeastern Arizona.

"Our training throughput continues to increase with 20 programs of instruction," said Lt. Col. Patrick Sullivan, battalion commander. "We will graduate about 2,000 folks this year and we expect that to increase in the next few years."


The battalion, comprising 600 soldiers, Department of the Army civilians and contractors, trains about 250 to 300 students daily on the Shadow, MQ-5B Hunter and Warrior-A systems. This month, it begins flight instruction on the new Gray Eagle, formerly known as the Sky Warrior, or the extended range/multi-purpose vehicle.

The Army expects to train and graduate more than 2,200 UAS operators and maintainers beginning in 2012.

"It's reflective of the number of unmanned systems we're fielding," said Col. John M. Lynch, director of the U.S. Army unmanned aircraft systems center of excellence, in a phone interview from Fort Rucker, Ala. "You see the explosion of systems that are out there."

The 197th Infantry Training Brigade's 2nd battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning, Ga., prepares troops to fly the hand-launched Raven UAS. For all other systems, Fort Huachuca is the one-stop shop for UAS training. With 997 square miles of restricted airspace roughly the size of Rhode Island, the base boasts an ideal training area for unmanned aircraft, officials said.


To meet the growing demand, the battalion trains Shadow operators and maintainers 16 hours a day, including on weekends as necessary to maximize facilities and equipment, said Sullivan. All Army UAS operators begin on the Shadow and then move on to the larger systems.

The length of the courses varies with the platform. Shadow operator training takes about 21 weeks. An individual formally trained on Shadow proceeds through an 8-week course to fly the Warrior-A, a cousin to the Air Force's Predator UAS, and an early version of the Gray Eagle. Gray Eagle training classes will take about 25 weeks.

During that time, students receive information in an academic setting before moving onto flight training, which is broken down into simulation and live flying. About 80 percent of the instruction is in flight simulators and the remaining 20 percent is conducted on the flight line.

"We try to train as realistically as possible. That way when they get downrange, it's not too much of a difference for them to slip right in that seat to accomplish the mission," said Staff Sgt. Michael Lingelbach, an instructor for Warrior-A in the battalion's Charlie Company.

The Army's workhorse UAS, the Shadow, has flown the bulk of the service's 1 million flight hours attained in May. This month, the service was expecting its total combat flight hours to breach the 1 million mark as well. With the high operational tempo, it should come as no surprise that the flight training simulators are being maxed out.

The battalion continues to pursue advanced simulation technologies as it strives to meet the Army's plans for UAS operations through 2035. "Whatever I can do in the simulator, that saves time and money out on the flight line," said Sullivan.

In the battalion's simulation training center is a large room that contains 22 ground control stations for flying Shadow and Hunter missions. Pilot and sensor operator consoles sit side by side along the perimeter of the room. Directly behind the consoles, there are rows of tables with computers that allow instructors to monitor and modify the training scenarios. …

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