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Ravens provide 'eye in sky' for 2nd HBCT
Sgt. Adam Minkler, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 26th Brigade Support Battalion, hand launches a Raven Unmanned Aerial Vehicle during training at Contingency Operating Site Marez. Minkler’s unit is deployed as part of the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division in Mosul, Iraq. - photo by U.S. Army photo
CONTINGENCY OPERATING SITE MAREZ, Iraq — Israel ushered in the age of the unmanned aerial vehicle during its 1982 war with Lebanon. Now, almost 30 years later, these aircraft are still proving their value in the airspace and battlefields of Iraq.
At a cost of approximately $35,000 per plane, it’s often more cost effective to send out a remote-controlled aircraft than a squad of soldiers for a reconnaissance mission. Recently, the military recognized more than 1 million flight hours flown by Army unmanned aircraft systems.
For the past two weeks, soldiers with the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, have been learning the ins and outs of the RQ-11 Raven aircraft during training at Contingency Operating Site Marez in Mosul, Iraq.
Each of the battalions within the 2nd Brigade has at least one Raven UAV system; therefore, the class was comprised of students throughout the brigade, including the 26th Brigade Support Battalion, the 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery and the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry.
The Raven is a radio-controlled, 4.2-pound, unmanned aerial vehicle with a 55-inch wing span. A typical flight lasts 60-90 minutes. The aircraft, which has a surveillance range of 10 kilometers, is used for a variety of missions, including surveillance and base security.
While it doesn’t carry any kind of weapons system, the Raven does have plenty of cameras with front and side views and a zoom of 1.288 millimeters. It also has a night vision camera.
“We can send this aircraft out instead of a soldier for surveillance. That way, you can have eyes on the target even before you go in there,” said Staff Sgt. Ryan Haws, of Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry, at Fort Benning.  
“They’re just now getting really knowledgeable with the system. When we first got started, they didn’t know anything about the laptops, or how things worked. Now, they can pretty much deploy it themselves,” Haws said.
Since April, his training team has gone from base to base to provide Raven aerial training for U.S. soldiers. To date, Haws estimates they’ve trained more than 60 soldiers.
Once the course is complete and the students are certified, each soldier will have registered approximately 5.2 hours of flight time on the pint-sized UAV.
“Flying it is pretty cool, actually. To see how the Raven actually flies and what it can do up there is pretty amazing,” said Spc. Chris Johnson, a member of B Battery, 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery.
“We usually fly our Raven at night, so I haven’t been able to observe our unit using it. There are two other people in my battery who are qualified. Since we fly it on a regular basis, I’ll probably get a chance to fly it. The coolest part, though, is knowing we’ll able to use this as a resource.
“What you can see from the air is pretty cool,” he said.
The first part of the training requires students to view informative slides in a classroom setting. Soldiers learn about the life of the batteries, the audio visual system and the GPS. They also learn how far the Raven can fly, the different camera views, how to zoom in and out and how to go from the front to the side cameras.
The second week of training involves hands-on experience for the Spartan flyers. They learn how to put the aircraft together, how to work the controls and how to launch it. Each soldier is given three to five attempts to properly hand-launch the aircraft.
“During our first flights, they showed us what to do. We learned emergency procedures if something goes wrong. We learned how to follow and keep up with a vehicle and how to slow down or speed up. We would also fly out to certain distances and certain heights,” Johnson said.
“Our trainer has been awesome. He’s very knowledgeable and he’s been very good with the hands-on portion of our training. As far as the training goes, I wouldn’t change anything about this course at all.”

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