Army, Contractors & Vendors, Sensors, tech

Trick or treat–Army wants Shadow UAV retrofits for Halloween

RQ-7_LaunchThe Army Aviation and Missile Command has awarded a contract to perform engine retrofits on the RQ-7 Shadow UAV. The contract, awarded  to AI of Hunt Valley, MD on Sept. 22, 2009, was for  $49,185,103, a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract “over and above work for EFI,” the Army announcement said–that is, replacing the UAVs’ existing carbeurator-based Wankel rotary engines with electronic fuel injection Wankels.

The estimated completion date of the work is  Oct. 31, 2009.

The Shadow is the descendant of the Pioneer UAV, jointly developed by AAI and  Israeli Aircraft Industries — the “mother of all UAVs”.  Iraqi soldiers surrendered to a Pioneer RPV off USS Wisconsin during the Gulf War, after a bombardment of their positions by the USS Missouri.

Full disclosure– I was tangentially involved in Pioneer testing aboard USS Iowa in the late 1980s, as a deck officer on that ship…mostly I stood ready with a motor whaleboat to recover the bits of the aircraft we were recovering if it splashed rather than getting caught between the “goalposts” (see image below).


The Shadow's predecessor, the Pioneer, being retrieved aboard USS Iowa (BB-64)

The Shadow’s stats:
General characteristics

  • Length: 11.2 ft in (3.41 m)
  • Wingspan: 14 ft in (3.87 m)
  • Height: 3.3 ft in (1 m)
  • Empty weight: 186 lb (77 kg)
  • Gross weight: 375 lb (170 kg)
  • Powerplant: × 1 Wankel UAV Engine 741, 38 hp (28.5 kW) each


  • Range: 68 miles (109.5 km)
  • Endurance: 6 hours
  • Service ceiling: 15,000 ft

The main sensor on the Shadow is an electro-optic/ infrared camera in a gimbaled ball on the underside of the UAV.  The Army was reportedly investigating possible signals intelligence sensors for the Shadow in 2008.

Afghanistan, Air Force, tech

Predator ops in Afghanistan-landing "paper planes" in a crosswind

scr_090915-NG-9999X-001This morning, I got a chance to participate in a blogger roundtable Q&A with Brig. Gen. Guy M. Walsh, commander of the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing, Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan. Walsh, who until recently commanded the 175th Wing, Maryland Air National Guard out of Baltimore, took command of the new 451st Air Expeditionary Wing in Kandahar in July.

The 451st operates an interesting mixed bag of aircraft: roughly a dozen A-10 close air support aircraft, C-130j combat airlift aircraft, the HH-60 “Pave Hawk” combat search and rescue variant of the Blackhawk,  a EC-130 Compass Call  and a joint expeditionary deployment of  Navy and Marine Corps EA6-B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft to provide jamming of Taliban cell phone and radio communications and remote-detonated IEDs, and over 50 unmanned aerial systems, including Predators and Reapers.

There have been a number of Predator crashes in Afghanistan recently; over the weekend, the Air Force had to shoot down a Reaper UAV that had failed to go into fail-safe when positive control was lost, and was flying north out of Afghani airspace. According to a written statement from Office of the Secretary of Defense Chris Isleib earlier this year, “Since 1994 the Air Force has procured 195 Predators. 65 have been lost due to Class A mishaps.”  Of those aircraft lost in accidents,  36 percent were attributed to human error. And 15 percent of accidents occurred during landing.

I asked Brig. Gen. Walsh about the challenges of operating the Predator and other UASs in Afghanistan.  He said that one of the biggest challenges pilots were facing when he arrived was dealing with the handling characteristics of the Predator at the end of a mission, when it was flying extremely light, in high crosswinds.  He said it could be like “trying to fly a paper airplane.”

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