by Staff Sgt. Melanie Holochwost
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AFNS) — Eleven U.S. Air Force Academy cadets learned to operate RQ-11B Raven small unmanned aircraft systems, or SUAS, during an initial qualification training course at Choctaw Airfield, Fla., June 3-14.
The RQ-11B Raven is a lightweight and low-altitude, remotely piloted system that provides real-time imagery. Similar in size and shape to a baseball bat, Ravens are designed to be flown beyond a visual line-of-site from a position of cover or concealment.
“This is the first time Academy cadets have attended this course,” said Maj. Trevor Laribee, the Det. 1, 371st Special Operations Combat Training Squadron commander. “They will go into their third or fourth year at the Academy and provide other cadets familiarization flights with the Raven and give them an opportunity to hone tactical and operational skills.”
Cadet 2nd Class Warren Saunders, who has been flying private airplanes with his dad since he was 6 years old, said he volunteered to attend the 10-day course.
“Air Force Special Operations Command donated several Ravens to our program, so we came here to learn about them,” the aspiring fighter pilot said. “We plan to take this knowledge back to the Academy and teach it to about 30 other cadets.”
Saunders said he’s glad he attended the course and is impressed with the instruction.
“Although we are only a few days into the training, I’m confident that I’ll be able to at least teach the basics,” he said.
Laribee said this course is important because some units in combat may not always have access to airborne manned or unmanned reconnaissance crews and assets.
“SUAS gives ground commanders the ability to collect actionable intelligence within the unit,” he said. “These air vehicles can reach out to 20 kilometers and provide color and infrared video directly to the user.”
There are many opportunities for interested candidates to learn about SUAS, Laribee said.
“There are courses here and on the Eglin (Air Force Base) range every week,” he said. “The current student throughput is 250 to 300 per year and has exceeded 500 based on unit requirements. We also plan to train up to 72 USAFA cadets next year.”
In addition to the valuable training, enlisted students earn college credit upon completion of the course.
“The Joint Formal Training Unit obtained Community College of the Air Force accreditation in April 2013,” Laribee said. “Students receive three credit hours of CCAF elective credit, aiding the Air Force, and Special Operations Command, warriors in obtaining degrees for professional development.”