The Amazing, All-Purpose, Styrofoam Drone

FF_136_drones5_f.jpg"I get paid by the Army to fly remote-controlled planes," says Sgt. Nathan Wyatt from 3-29 Field Artillery. From his post at LSA Anaconda, he operates the three foot-long Raven unmanned aerial vehicle. Almost every day, he hand-launches one of his three Kevlar and Styrofoam birds into the skies over north-central Iraq. Wyatt controls the Raven with a handheld console while, ideally, an assistant monitors flight parameters on a separate console. Each operator has a screen showing what the Raven sees. With a range of up to 15 miles and both day and night sensors, that amounts to quite a lot. The imagery is beamed straight to a display in the tactical operations center.At nearby Camp Paliwoda, 1st Lt. Peter Postma from 1-8 Infantry describes how his battalion decided to give a three-bird Raven set to each of its companies as well as to its scout section. That way company commanders can send Ravens to support individual patrols instead of having to ask battalion. "It's working well for us," Postma says."It's all GPS-driven," Wyatt says, singing the Raven's praises. All he has to do is punch coordinates into his console and the Raven goes there.But the Raven hates bad weather. A few days ago, one of the year's worst winter storms downed power lines and left Anaconda and Paliwod ankle-deep in mud. As the storm was brewing, one of Wyatt's Ravens crashed onto the roof of an Iraqi house. A patrol promptly retrieved it, and Wyatt come into the S-1 shop cradling his busted-up bird in his arms. The Raven is designed to pop apart on impact, making repairs pretty straightforward. And lucky for Wyatt, Anaconda hosts the only Raven repair shop in all of Iraq. You just trade in your broken bird and sign out a new one.Raven also hates Warlock, the radio jammer used to thwart remotely-detonated IEDs. If a Raven flies over a patrol with a Warlock, it might get jammed. If that happens, the Raven tries to fly home, but computers being computers, sometimes it just crashes instead.-- David Axe

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