By Emily Baker
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – Making less noise than a single-engine airplane and looking deceptively like a large bird soaring in the breeze head-on, a key to 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment leaders' knowledge of the battlefield can be tricky to find.
But, that's the point of the RQ-7A Shadow 200 Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.
From way up there, high enough not to interfere with helicopter traffic, the buzzing contraption, carrying a powerful camera helps to protect soldiers by keeping a watchful eye over their convoy routes and monitoring for enemy activity, said Capt. Matthew Shown, commander of the regiment's military intelligence company.
Some of the first Fort Hood flights of the regiment's Shadows took place Thursday at a training range built for unmanned aerial vehicles, complete with a miniature hangar and runway for the tiny flying machines.
The Shadow, which is about 5 feet long, 3 feet high at the top of its tail and has a wingspan of 5 or 6 feet, is "the eyes of the regimental commander," Shown said.
As it flies, the camera in the Shadow records videos and can take photographs. Two soldiers in the back of a truck that looks like a small ambulance control the aircraft with computers. A green, arcade-game-like airplane outline helps the soldiers track where it is flying on a satellite image of the area over which it flies.
One soldier typically controls the aircraft, while the other controls the camera, said Pfc. Caleb W. Lowry, who operates the aircraft. With a set of dials and joysticks, Lowry and Pfc. Arnold Hughes explored the training area of Fort Hood with a Shadow, zooming in on vehicles as they traversed the lesser-traveled post roads.
A smaller version of the equipment Lowry and Hughes use can be carried in Humvees with ground units, and a smaller version of that, which is about the size of a lunch box, can travel with ground commanders so they can see what lies ahead.
Having the Shadow capability inside the regiment is a key asset, Shown said, because it allows commanders faster access to information.
"If one company is doing this over here, and another company is doing something else over there, this allows the regimental commander to see both and prioritize the needs of the companies," Shown said.
Because the Shadow and the system's operators travel with ground units in combat, they also train with them. That's why two platoons of Shadow operators are training now before most of the ground units get into larger-unit level training, said 2nd Lt. Julie Paynter, a platoon leader.
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Credit for all photos: U.S. Army/Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Volkert
UAV1: An RQ-7A Shadow 200 Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle flies out of a launcher during a 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment training exercise at Fort Hood on Thursday.
UAV2: Pvt. Paul Anderson, an unmanned aerial vehicle maintainer from the 66th Military Intelligence Company, 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, puts a cooling fan unit on an RQ-7A Shadow 200 Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle before it takes off during a training exercise at Fort Hood on Thursday.
UAV3: An RQ-7A Shadow 200 Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle flies out of a launcher during a 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment training exercise at Fort Hood on Thursday.
UAV4: Pfc. Caleb W. Lowry explains how pictures show up on a screen from the RQ-7A Shadow Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle during a 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment training exercise at Fort Hood on Thursday.