Members of the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley demonstrated the army’s unmanned aircraft system (UAS), the Gray Eagle during a public event at Marshall Army AirfieldFriday.
“Grey Eagle is an extended range multipurpose platform designed to provide support for both reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition for ground forces,” said Capt. Joseph Crampr Difrancesco. He said the system can take advantage of Hellfire missile support, real time video and real time radar imagery “of enemy locations and friendly locations.”
This kind of technology allows commanders to find nearly anything during war. The UAS weighs 3,600 pounds, is 28 feet in length and has a wing span of 56 feet. It can fly at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour and can climb to altitudes of 25,000 feet.
The Gray Eagle is also giving Fort Riley soldiers a unique learning and training opportunity to fly the UAS. All enlisted soldiers can fly the platform while communicating with traffic controllers, allowing the soldiers to functioning as aviators.
Tests are conducted before, after and during each flight. Every plane is manned from a primary and backup ground control center to allow the most cautious operation of the aircrafts. This ensures that if something happens to the first control room, the second can take over until repairs are made on the first.
Daily testing for the Gray Eagle includes simulations, actual flights, academic training and generalized preparation for deployment overseas, which will take place in early February. Four of the UASs were brought to Fort Riley in September; however, none of the aircraft on post will go along with the unit when it deploys.
During training, weather is a large factor in what can be done with the UAS, especially when it is windy. Fort Riley is cautious to not fly the aircraft over populated areas and does much of its training on the base. However, in battle, the aircraft can be used in more versatile weather conditions including ice and light rain, flying 15 hours before being refueled.
“We have not had mechanical issues with the system,” said Crampr Difrancesco. We have a 96 percent operations reading rate, which is almost unheard of to have that high of a reliability rate.”
“We’re ahead of all goals set for us, were more than ready,” said Staff Sgt. Andrew Dickerson, who is in charge of standardization and training associated with the Gray Eagle.
The brigade is the first unit to have the equipment on hand to train outside of deployment and the initial training periods. Having the aircraft at Fort Riley allows more soldiers the opportunity to train while spending time with their families.