Shadow Group 2 providing overwatch in Tarin Kot
8 March 2013
Launching the Shadow Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) on a mission requires coordination, precision and many pairs of hands. For the 45-member Shadow Unmanned Aerial Group 2 (Shadow UAV Gp 2), it’s all in a day’s work.
Corporal Scott McMahon, makes final pre-flight checks prior to each launch of the Shadow UAV from Multi National Base Tarin Kot. While conducting the checks, Bombardier Jared Cumerford communicates with Corporal McMahon via a radio from a building beside the purpose-built Shadow runway. Bombardier Cumerford remotely checks the function of the engine and control surfaces as it sits on the launcher. Following confirmation of the operating system, Corporal McMahon takes up the launch control box and walks a safe distance from the aircraft across the runway. After pausing to allow a Royal Australian Air Force C-130J Hercules to take off and clear the airfield airspace, Bombardier Cumerford increases the power and revs of the Shadow’s engine.
Corporal McMahon then sends the Shadow skyward and it accelerates to more than 100km/h up the rails as if it has been flung from a sling-shot. Once airborne, Bombardier Cumerford regains control of the aircraft and flies it to a designated way-point over Tarin Kot where it will cross paths at a different altitude with another Shadow returning to base. When the outbound aircraft has reached its way-point Bombardier Cumerford hands over control to Gunner David Elliott working in a Ground Control Station (GCS) in the Shadow compound 400 metres from the launch and recovery site.
Gunner Elliott and Shadow Payload Camera Operator Gunner Steven Pisani are part-way through their 12-hour shift and will fly the remainder of the mission with the newly launched aircraft. The returning Shadow is controlled back to the base for a successful landing.
Major Scott Lehmann is the Base Commander of Shadow UAV Gp 2 which took over from Shadow Gp 1 on October 10 last year.
“Our role is to provide an organic airborne Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability to Combined Team Uruzgan and Special Operations Task Group, Major Lehmann said.
“We provide them full situational awareness across a sparse battlespace allowing them to rapidly view their areas of operation,” he said.
The Battery is made up of Army personnel from the 20th Surveillance and Target Acquisition Regiment who fly and operate Shadow and its camera payload and maintenance personnel from the 1st and 5th Aviation Regiments.
Gunner Elliott, a Shadow Operator and Pilot, is on his first deployment and his shifts typically last 12 hours like most of the men and women of Shadow UAV Gp 2. After arriving to work, Gunner Elliott follows similar processes to a manned aircraft pilot before a mission.
“We receive mission briefs and have some input into the planning process. I obtain authorisation for the mission and then enter mission data into an aviation computer system which logs and stores all of our flight plans, missions and flight hours,” Gunner Elliott said.
“The mission commander provides an overall mission brief and we enter a GCS and fly the mission,” he said.
During a flight, Gunner Elliot says his job is to ensure Shadow is flown safely to achieve the goals of the mission.
“The Shadow is fairly easy to fly. I use the GCS computer to change altitude, airspeed and flight attitude using computer mouse clicks, a keyboard and monitor. It’s a bit like a real-time strategy computer game where I have a map in front of me and an icon of the aircraft on top of the map plotting our position,” he said.
During a shift each crew of two stay paired up and rotate with another pair working two hours in the GCS and resting for two hours. This management of work hours allows crews to remain fresh and alert throughout their shift.
Gunner Pisani is also a Shadow Operator and is Gunner Elliott’s Payload Camera Operator on this shift.
“Our mission brief outlines exactly what we’re looking for using the day and night cameras, ” Gunner Pisani said.
“During the mission I am in radio contact with an Imagery Analyst (IA) who directs me where to point the cameras. “To operate the cameras I use a joystick to move and scan an area, and I can zoom in and out of what I’m looking at,” he said.
The two-person crew directs the Shadow and its payload onto compounds of interest, particular road routes or interesting objects of opportunity spotted by the IA during flight. To keep Shadow in the air and assist in its launch is Shadow Maintainer and Ground Crew Chief Corporal McMahon.
Corporal McMahon said before deploying with Shadow UAV Gp 2 he was a Tiger helicopter mechanic posted to 1 Avn Regt in Darwin and a significant part of his current role was to maintain every component of the Shadow system. Following the four-month Shadow maintainers’ course in the United States, his job now is to maintain, launch and recover the aircraft.
“There’s no real comparison between the Shadow and a Tiger. Everything is miniaturised, a lot simpler and there are no pilots to deal with,” Corporal McMahon said.
“I work down at the launch and recovery site and I look after the aircraft and its systems, the launch and recovery systems and the GCS. On a typical day we come into work and check the flight program and begin preparing the next aircraft to launch. As part of the pre-flight process we test the integrity of the aircraft systems, the responsiveness of the engine, control surfaces and the electronics,’ he said.
Once the systems are all checked, the aircraft is then launched. Corporal McMahon and his ground crew take control of the Shadow again once it has landed pushing it to the work bay and conducting post flight checks.
“We drain it of fuel and then refuel it, check it over, and perform any other required servicing before it flies again. During my busiest shift I took part in four launches and five recoveries,” he said.
Today Bombardier Cumerford is in control of the launch and recovery of the aircraft.
“Launch and recovery is the most critical and hazardous phases of a flight,” Bombardier Cumerford said.
“After a launch when I’ve flown my aircraft to the predetermined way-point, I remotely hand over the aircraft to the duty flight crew in the main GCS. The flight crew continue the mission and I take over again when the aircraft lands at the base,” he said.
Shadow UAV Gp 2 is due to return to Australian in May.