Wyo. Guard training troops to fly unmanned aircraft systems

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by Capt. Christian Venhuizen  197th Public Affairs Detachment

CAMP GUERNSEY, Wyo. – The Wyoming Army National Guard expanded its unmanned aircraft system credentials from providing the secure airspace to actual flight training.
The 213th Regional Training Institute, based at Guernsey, graduated the first 10-day basic operator’s course for the RQ-11 Raven class in the fall of 2014, a mix of Army National Guard and Air Force students.

The second class, all Army National Guardsmen, graduated in April 2015, after conducting their field training at Camp Guernsey.

“It’s a very advanced class and you basically hit the ground running at a very fast paced,” said Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Oakes, of Cheyenne, a guest instructor with the RTI.

The 213th RTI instructors attended a similar 10-day basic course, followed by a three-week master training course. In Oakes’ case, he completed the basic course at Redstone Arsenal, in Alabama, and the master course at Fort Benning, Georgia. Both courses focused on flying the Raven.

The cadre of instructors means Wyoming students can stay in Wyoming for the basic Raven course and draw students from around the nation.

Ravens, weighing just over four pounds, are carried by troops from multiple branches of military service. They provide an aerial view, including infrared night vision, of the battlefield or can scout a forward location to ensure areas are safe, however, these UAVs are unarmed.

The classes of eight students, separated into two groups, learn to setup the remote system and pilot the aircraft using telemetry fed to both a computer and a control box.

“They learn how to fly, they learn instruments, they learn emergency procedures paramount to safeguard the aircraft in case anything happens to the aircraft,” said Oakes. “The aircraft is about a $30,000 system. They learn a little bit about the weather and they learn a little bit about themselves as well.”

“My thoughts [coming into the class] were, as far as the class itself, that it was going to be more of a ‘just fly the aircraft around and have fun,’” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Clancy, of Lander, one of the students in the April class. “I didn’t really expect the level of operating the camera and the different cameras that are available on the aircraft, which really make it a force multiplier.”

Clancy is an artilleryman with the Wyoming National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 300th Field Artillery. He said he sees the potential for UAVs and the different cameras they carry to survey targets hit by artillery fire. It is a potential that could save lives by keeping American troops out of dangerous areas.

Camp Guernsey is no stranger to providing training areas for artillery or UAVs. The camp’s location, literally across the street from the RTI, and its proven record of hosting units using the unmanned aircraft helped make the unmanned course possible. Additionally, the rural training area and secure air space allow the students to fly the aircraft without coming near residential communities.

“The flying environment is great. We have so much acreage we can utilize,” said Oakes of the environment.
Clancy said the variable winds and terrain enhanced the training, adding obstacles to flying and retrieving the aircraft. “It’s just a really good course and its fun.”

Not only is it fun, but potentially could lead to civilian employment. Clancy and Oakes said the training may add another marketable skill set for military personnel outside of uniformed service.

Soldiers have the opportunity to request the training at the RTI, which plans to offer the course up to twice a year.