Soldiers of Alpha “Assassins” Company, 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, learned the ups and downs of a new unmanned aerial vehicle Aug. 21 to 28.

After three days of classroom instruction, unmanned aircraft systems repairers and UAV operators headed to the field to conduct training on an upgraded model of the RQ-7B Shadow, featuring a fuel-injected engine and longer wings than previous models.

These aircraft are used instead of soldiers in certain circumstances for a few reasons.

UAVs take the place of soldiers during lengthy surveillance missions and in areas hazardous to manned aircraft and ground troops, said Staff Sgt. Morgan Caffarello, a UAV repairer for the Assassins.

“The benefit of having (an) unmanned aircraft (is) it takes the danger away from the pilot,” said Spc. Alexander Gonzalez, an Assassin UAV operator.

It is not ideal for a UAV to go down, but a piece of equipment can be replaced while a person cannot, Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said UAVs track enemy forces, provide security, and identify targets while conducting surveillance.

Upgrades for UAVs are continuous, requiring operators and maintainers to train and fly regularly, preserving their proficiency on the systems, Caffarello said.

The extended wings give the aircraft longer endurance, allowing the Shadow to fly up to nine hours, said Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Callahan, a UAV repairer for the Assassins. The previous model could only spend up to six hours in the air.

Another feature, the fuel-injected engine, eliminates issues like ice in the engine at high altitudes, posing problems when using a carburetor, he said.

Assassin UAV operators and maintainers spend two weeks of every month in the field allowing them to develop muscle memory of the skills they use, Callahan said. Continued training allows soldiers to operate faster becoming more proficient each time they fly.

“Everything is easy, and everything is difficult,” Gonzalez said about learning the new system. “It just depends on how much focus and how much time you actually put into it.”

Caffarello said his favorite part of the training is how the new system puts soldiers on an equal playing field.

Because the system is new, soldiers from private to staff sergeant share an identical knowledge base, Caffarello said.

“I don’t know anything more about the system than (my private first class),” he said. “I like that it takes a lot of the rank out of it and (focuses) more on just (doing) our job.”

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