The Wisconsin National Guard tested the RQ-7 Shadow 200 unmanned aerial vehicle at Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center for the first time Wednesday (Aug. 11).
Many aircraft, ranging from fighter jets to air refuelers and even large civilian airliners, have taken off and landed at Volk Field, but the small unmanned aerial vehicle that lands solely on instruments was something new to the Air National Guard base.
According to Sgt. Lucas Gordon, an operations noncommissioned officer with Company B, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, the Shadow 200 and its real-time imagery capability is being placed with ground troops to support missions such as convoy operations, field artillery and troops in contact with enemy forces.
Wednesday’s flight had two purposes, Gordon said. The first was to verify that the radio frequency used by the UAV is compatible with equipment used by the Wisconsin Air National Guard, which operates Volk Field. The second was to prepare for the upcoming NATO Ramstein Rover forward air controller exercise, beginning in just over a week.
“I plan to fly eight to nine hours, two to three flights per day,” Gordon said, noting that air restrictions at Volk Field limit his unit to flying only one of their four UAVs at one time. For the Ramstein Rover exercise, Gordon said the unit would have one UAV ready on its launcher so that when one Shadow lands another can take off.
The RQ-7 Shadow 200 UAV catapulted from its launching mechanism at approximately 10:30 a.m. and circled around Volk Field for 10 minutes or so before approaching the paved runway and catching the arrest cables to conclude its short flight.
“It looks like a big eagle,” observed one of the Volk Field civilian employees standing along the flight line as the Shadow soared overhead.
The Shadow 200 can reach heights of 15,000 feet but generally does not exceed 10,000 feet, and has a maximum range of 125 kilometers. While often referred to as a drone, a generic term for all UAVs, the Shadow should not be confused with a Predator – a larger aircraft with weapons.
The Shadow 200’s payload is a camera, which the military uses for target acquisition, aerial reconnaissance and surveillance. The Shadow can also serve as a deterrent to hostile forces by its presence overhead – serving notice that they are being watched. But it also has domestic applications, such as assessing the situation on the ground following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Despite the airspace restrictions, Spc. Robert Michalak – who served as crew chief for Wednesday’s mission – said Volk Field’s paved runways are more advantageous than the hard-packed dirt and gravel airstrips at Fort McCoy, which can damage the Shadow’s propeller. Gordon said that Volk Field was also more conducive for flights during inclement weather.
Gordon said the Wisconsin Air National Guard was instrumental in helping his unit accomplish the Volk Field flight by working with the FAA to approve a certificate of authorization for the Shadow 200.
“That can take up to six months for the FAA to approve,” Gordon explained. “The Air Guard was extremely proactive in submitting the paperwork.”
Designs for a proposed $8 million, 10,298-square-foot building – which will provide training, maintenance, operations and storage space for the UAV platoon at Volk Field – are expected by October, with construction projected to begin in December of 2011 and conclude by December 2012. The state Building Commission approved the project last month.