Million-Dollar Nat. Guard Device Patrols the Air

By Mark Geary, Reporter

Specialist David Brumley (left) of Stuart and private second class Paul Hamilton of Davenport with Bravo Company 2/34th BSTB perform pre-flight checks on an RQ-7 Bravo Shadow System unmanned aerial vehicle during annual training for the Iowa National Guard at Camp Ripley on Monday, June 21, 2010. (Jim Slosiarek)


By Becky Ogann

CAMP RIPLEY, MINNESOTA – If you came across the Iowa National Guard running a training exercise with its high-tech, unmanned surveillance plane, you probably wouldn’t realize the innocuous looking remote-controlled contraption is a million-dollar piece of equipment.

The grey plane, about the size of a pool table, looks like a toy. Although it comes with a hefty price tag, the device is fragile. “I guess it’s not terribly complicated, but it’s pretty useful,” Specialist Matt Bendickson of the 234 Bravo BSTB Company of Cedar Rapids, said.

Iowa National Guard soldiers spent four hours checking, double-checking and re-checking everything before they launched a test flight. The plane required specific wind and weather conditions to ensure the guard felt comfortable sending it airborne. Sergeant Johnson Wolf of the 234 Bravo BSTB Company and from Marshalltown said, “There is no room for error when it comes to this system…The more practice we have, the faster we’ll be.”

In a combat zone, soldiers said they would be less particular about weather. However, in a training scenario, no one wanted to risk crashing or damaging a million dollar device.

The plane includes a high tech camera capable of sending back live video. It can climb up to 15,000 feet into the air and provide a “birds-eye-view” of the enemy. “The footage can be priceless,” Bendickson said. Once it takes flight, it can reach speeds up to 90 miles per hour while cutting through the clouds without making a sound. “It helps us make sure there are not bad guys in the area. It flies pretty high up. So, the chances of them seeing it are pretty slim,” Sergeant Tyler Brownell of the 234 BSTB and from Evansdale said.

As an added bonus, the plane also acts like a virtual cell phone tower for the military’s radio system. When the aircraft is in use, troops can communicate via radio even if they are miles apart. In Afghanistan, many soldiers will rely on the radio system and have little or no access to cell phones.

The Iowa National Guard owns four of these devices. Each one they send into the air has the potential to save countless lives on the ground during the upcoming historic deployment to the Middle East.

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