The following article came from the September 30, 2001 issue of STARS and STRIPES. Thanks to MGNOC Minnesota State Rep, George Dalin for forwarding this to me via email.
The article and pictures were done by Terry Boyd, Stars and Stripes. Unfortunately the pictures won't reproduce nearly as well as the originals, but will give a good idea what the setup is about.
Fun to fly, unmanned aerial vehicles perform valuable intelligence function.
In the middle of the simmering crisis that is peacekeeping in the Balkans, the Army has lots of interesting, demanding jobs. But few have the impact of the men and women who fly the Hunter unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.
Hunter crew members walk one of the drones back to its resting place on the edge of the runway at Skopje Airport. It takes about 30 people, including civilians, to operate the small surveillance drones.
"Once field commanders get a taste of what we can give them, they get hooked," said Staff Sgt. Louis Edwards. "It's like giving a kid candy. They just want more and more."
The small RQ-5A Hunter drones that Edwards and company fly are basically great big radio-controlled planes, not too far removed from those that hobbyists fly in parks on Sunday afternoons.
"It's a 1600-pound Weedeater, "said Maj. Dennis Griffin, who commands the UAV company.
But by flying their Hunter drones with both video and heat sensitive infrared cameras low and slow over targets, the soldiers from Company A, 15th Military Intelligence Battalion, 504th Military Intelligence Brigade, based at Fort Hood, Texas, can give commanders a real-time, God's-eye view of whatever they desire to see.
They fly six Hunters out of the Macedonian airport, just a few hundred yards west of Camp Able Sentry. The camp is the U.S. support base for both KFOR operations in Kosovo, and for Operation Essential Harvest, the British-led effort to disarm Albanian rebels fighting the Macedonian government. Albanian guerrillas agreed to surrender part of their arsenals in return for changes in the Macedonjan constitution guaranteeing them more civil rights.
Spec. Dako Monzili, 23, a generator mechanic, works on her first head-gasket change as she trained with Gloria Bounds, left, a TRW technician. Monzili is learning to work on the twin-cylinder motorcycle engines that power the Hunter drones.
Company A's video and still photos go to both American intelligence soldiers and to British commanders wanting to reconnoiter for weapons pickups in guerrilla strongholds along the Macedonia-Kosovo border.
On a recent workday, the Hunter unit was scheduled for one morning launch and an eight-hour flight. But even before that Hunter landed, crews were prepping another, which took off at sunset.
"As the only deployable Hunter company, Company A is in demand almost constantly," said Pfc. Andrew Wentworth. "We're victims of our own success," he said.
"The unit's six Hunters have racked up more than 660 hours since they started flying on May 22," he said.
The highlight of the unit's deployment so far came June 24 when Hunters were able to help 81 soldiers in an American-led convoy escape from armed and angry Macedonian crowds in Aracinovo. The soldiers were escorting 80 buses of Albanians, including 100 guerrillas who had held Aracinovo, just six miles north of Camp Able Sentry. Angry that the guerrillas were trying to leave Aracinovo with their heavy weapons, people gathered at Macedonian military roadblocks.
"Hunters flew to look ahead and behind the convoy," said Capt. Dan Dittenber. After the convoy became stuck at the first roadblock, Hunters spotted a crowd gathering at a second, then identified two alternate routes out of the area and back to Able Sentry.
"We ended up earning our pay that day," Dittenber said. Task Force Falcon commander Brig. Gen. Bill David told us we were worth our weight in gold, he added.
The beauty of the Hunter is that it's so simple. "Anyone can be taught to fly [a Hunter] in a matter of minutes," Wentworth said. "It's knowing what to do when things go wrong that takes work," he added.
What goes up occasionally comes down unexpectedly. A Hunter conked out recently, but emergency chutes floated it to earth with only cosmetic damage. "It'll fly again," Dittenber said.
There are limits to when the Hunters can fly, Griffin said. As with any aircraft, ice on the wings can bring down a Hunter. Storms are the biggest threat, though Hunters can fly below clouds and gather infrared images in the rain.
Hunters are far from the only UAV in America's arsenal. Company A replaced an Air Force operation that flies Predators, a much larger UAV. But the Army can do the job for less. A Hunter runs about $1.6 million $800,000 for the plane itself, another $800,000 for the electronics, all from Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd. in Tel Aviv and Cleveland-based TRW Inc.
[Ed Note: They need to contact a Guzzi dealer here in the U.S. I know a couple of them that can build anything with a Guzzi engine, and do it at a fraction of that cost! -FW]
By comparison, the RQ-1B Predator runs about $3.3 million per aircraft.
But drones are the simplest part of the operation. It takes more than 30 soldiers in an operations team and about 10 civilian employees from TRW to support Hunter missions. The military specialties for Company A include everything from UAV pilots to generator mechanics.
"Perhaps the biggest difference between the Predator and the Hunter is that Predators are flown by Air Force officers, while junior enlisted are at the Hunters' controls," said Griffin. "It's a big point of pride for these guys," he said.
The job of the Hunter surveillance drone is to fly low and slow, searching for targets without putting a pilot at risk. The little aircraft can fly as slowly as 35 mph without stalling, and cruise to targets at about 55 mph, with an operating ceiling of about 10,000 feet.
With a wingspan of only 29 feet and a fuselage about 20 feet long, the Hunter is roughly half the size of the Air Force' Predator. "Pilots" fly the plane at control panels that are very similar to those on small airplanes.
Hunters are powered by two 750cc Moto Guzzi motorcycle engines, though TRW technicians say the Army is trying to adapt a small Mercedes-Benz diesel motor to eliminate having to fuel with gasoline.
With about 50 gallons of fuel on board, they planes can fly about 10 hours, depending on altitude.
The Hunter is one of seven UAVs from Israel Aircraft Industries. The Navy uses an IAI-manufactured aircraft dubbed The Pioneer.
The Army is thinking about adding a smaller drone, the Shadow 2000. But it wouldn't replace the Hunter, which is meant to be a corps/theater asset. Supported by a simpler, more mobile system, the Shadow is designed for battalion level use.
[Ed Note: See the article and colored pictures at: http://www.pstripes.com/01/mag/sm093001a.html -FW]