Piloting Remote Controlled Planes In Iraq

Piloting remote control planes is much more than a hobby for the military in Iraq. They are actually doing sophisticated surveillance and at times launching a surgical strikes at selected hot spots.

I was watching a television commercial yesterday and realized the US Army now pays some of its staffers to fly remote controlled planes and not just to produce  commercials.

Meet the RQ-11A Raven, an all-purpose, Styrofoam drone which weighs in at just a touch over 4 pounds. Tail to nose it is 3.5 feet and it has a wingspan of four feet.

This electrically powered, hand-launched drone can reach a height of 15,000 feet and has a range of about six miles.
It is equipped with sensors and cameras and relies on GPS to reach the intended target.  

More Small Flying Models

 Designed for the purpose of conducting aerial Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions, the drones are becoming common because they're easy to use. An 18-year-old soldier can learn how to launch and fly a Raven. The controls look very much like a PlayStation controller.

So, How do you pilot an unmanned drone, or even get it off the ground?

Depending upon which drone is up, it can be like playing a video game, flying an RC model plane, or simply doing data entry. These drones are used for reconnaissance and surgical attacks. It is launched when the soldier winds up and throws it.

Once in the air, the Raven is controlled by a book-sized console that looks something like a 1980s-era electronic football game. The screen at the top displays one of the drone's three video feeds, and the joysticks and buttons at the bottom pilot the craft. Operators can use the sticks to pilot the Raven like a model plane or just preprogram GPS coordinates for the drone to follow. There's even a button that automatically returns the Raven to its launch site.

Drones eye view

.But the Raven hates bad weather. A few days ago, one of the year's worst winter storms downed power lines and left its flight area ankle-deep in mud. As the storm was brewing, one of the Ravens crashed onto the roof of an Iraqi house. A patrol promptly retrieved it, and the operator  went to the repair shop cradling his busted-up bird in his arms. The Raven is designed to pop apart on impact, making repairs pretty straightforward.

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