Marine Corps 2-Year-Old UAV Provides Stealthy Combat Surveillance
(Source: US Marine Corps; issued Sept. 6, 2006)
A ScanEagle UAV after recovery by the 50-foot-tall Skyhook system. ScanEagle has a hook on its wingtip to snag the Skyhook’s wire. (US Marine Corps photo by Chad McMeen)
AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq --- There isn't a whole lot of jobs that can go unmanned in the battlefield, but one of the more significant jobs for the Marine Corps is completed by an unmanned aerial vehicle.

Operated by Marines and civilians with Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2, Marine Air Control Group 38 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), the ScanEagle has provided the Marine Corps with aerial surveillance since 2004 for the troops on the ground.

"It's a joint Boeing and The Insitu Group project, and we are on a service contract for the Marine Corps," said Bud Stallman, field service representative for Boeing. "The ScanEagle is a small, autonomous remote-control airplane with a stabilized camera. It generally flies itself, but we have operators to tell it where to go."

The ScanEagle's long-endurance capabilities and small size make it the ideal plane for aerial surveillance, according to Stallman.

"It's one of the smallest UAVs to have a stabilized video camera in it," said the Wentzville, Mo., native. "With the engine it has, it can stay in the air, orbiting a certain point for up to 15 plus hours.

"The small size makes it stealthy," he added. "It's very difficult to detect by enemy forces. We can be over a place for a long amount of time and gather (details), and they'll never know that we were there."

The ScanEagle is launched by Insitu's patented "SuperWedge" launcher, which is a pneumatic wedge catapult system. Then a 50-foot-high pole called the "Skyhook" retrieves it.

"Using the (global positioning system) antenna, the aircraft comes in and finds the rope on the 'Skyhook' itself," Stallman said. "There is a hook on the end of the wing, and when it touches the rope, the rope slides down the wing and latches into the hook. The aircraft will just hang there."

The retrieval of the aircraft can be somewhat intense, as it brings the aircraft from its minimal speed to a dead stop in less than a second.

"Because the capture can be so violent on the aircraft, we have to make sure all surfaces on the aircraft are undamaged," said Jason C. Breedlove, a field service representative for Boeing and native of Phoenix. "Sometimes in high winds we have trouble maintaining stability on the aircraft. We want to make sure we bring it down safely."

Able to fly more than 15 hours, the ScanEagle can provide consistent coverage for the troops on the ground.

"You are talking about nine to 11 hours of video per day, plus whatever imagery I can pull off of that," said Sgt. Richard M. Evans Jr., imagery analyst, VMU-2. "We also have multiple planes up at one time, and we have numerous sites."

The ScanEagle is the future of Marine Corps war fighting, according to Evans, a 28-year-old Flanders, N.J., native.

"Most of the units that we support are a little upset if there is a day that they don't get us," concluded the Mount Olive High School graduate. "It's an easy way for the troops on the ground to look around that corner without having to hop up and look around it. We are their eyes. We can see a broader picture of a city or an area that they might not be able to see. It's definitely become a main asset for the United States Marine Corps."

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