Camp Shelby troops get unmanned aircraft training

Ed Kemp

You might not notice it, unless you were looking for it: a tiny, almost toy-like airplane that glides silently in the skies above fields on Camp Shelby.

Stealthy, yes, as indicated by its nickname the Puma. But, in the words of facility commander Maj. Martin Lovelady, this RQ-20 unmanned aerial system isn’t some toy.

“It looks like a toy, and it’s really neat, and we get excited about it because it can do some neat things, but the way I see it, it’s going to save soldiers’ lives,” Lovelady said. “It changes the way we fight.”

Its life-saving capability is illustrated by the other half of the system: the soldiers on the ground. While the Puma circling overhead is controlled by remote operation, soldiers scan computer screens examining video feed of what the airplane sees.

In an open field on Camp Shelby, the Puma’s eye in the sky only sees images of rocks and trees, transmitted with astonishing clarity.

Launch it in Afghanistan, and the Puma potentially sees detailed pictures of enemy forces or improvised explosive devises — without soldiers put at risk to gather that information.

“You take the person out of harm’s way,” explains Warrant Officer Michael Bradburn, operations officer of the base’s Unmanned Aircraft Regional Flight Center. “We give them (the soldiers) the ability to see what’s coming, before they get to where they’re going.”

Camp Shelby, home to the nation’s only such unmanned flight center, has become a center for the training, thanks, in part, to the fact that the military base owns its own air space.