It's a bird ... It's a plane ... It's actually both, sort of.
Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division and the 41st Fires Brigade re-certified on the Army's smallest unmanned aerial vehicle, the Raven RQ-11B.
The master Raven trainers from the 41st Fires Brigade trained with Rail Gunner Raven operators and several of 2nd BCT Raven operators to re-certify and obtain more Raven flight time during the two-day re-certification course at House Creek Urban Assault Range located on Fort Hood, Texas, March 10-11.
The 41st Fires currently maintains the only two master Raven trainers on Fort Hood.
"I think the Raven is one of the greatest forewarning systems the Army has produced," said Army Staff Sergeant Josh Frana, a master Raven trainer with Battery B, 1st Battalion, 20th Field Artillery Regiment. "It's fairly easy to operate. It's almost like a video game."
The Raven is a small hand-launched aircraft powered by a small motor that resembles a remote control plane with a fail-safe design to fall apart in several pieces during the landing. However, the Raven is equipped with a few additional upgrades and a ground station to set it apart from the average hobby plane.
"The Raven may look like a small remote controlled toy, but compared to its likeness, it is a valuable tool that minimizes the loss of Soldiers lives and equipment on the battlefield," said Army Chief Warrant Officer Mike Ebinal, electronic warfare officer, 2nd BCT, 1st Cavalry Division. "It's important that our Soldiers receive the proper training on the Raven and keep their certifications up to date.”
The Raven is light weight and easily assembled that is equipped with a color video camera, a global positioning system, and an infrared night vision camera for surveillance and reconnaissance. Raven operators should receive at least 15 minutes of flying a month and should re-certify every six months.
“The Raven is a unique instrument,” said Army Sergeant 1st Class Randell Evans, a master Raven trainer with 2nd Battalion, 20th Field Artillery. “It's man-portable, you can put it in the back of a vehicle and take it where needs to go to conduct Raven operations or you can put it in a rucksack and walk it in.”
Evans, a multiple launch rocket system crewmember by trade, said he felt honored to be one of two master trainers on Fort Hood.
The Raven was first introduced in 1999 and has been saving lives ever since.
"The Raven saves man-power because it allows you to see what's in your battle space ahead of time," said Army Sergeant John Martinez, a tanker with Company D, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. "You can't become complacent in battle and you always have to be alert but with the Raven, you don't have to worry as much about sending your guys into danger because you have "eyes on" before you get to where you need to be."
During the class, Frana stressed the importance of watching the air space.
"Air space is one of the most important factors when flying the Ravens," said Frana. "You have to coordinate with the units around you and who's coming through your area. You might not want to throw your bird in the air if you know you have Apaches coming through."
Raven operators also have to follow rules set forth by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The Raven with its toy-like appearance may be fun to operate but training to minimize the loss of Soldiers and damage to equipment is serious business.
Staff Sergeant Kyle Richardson is an active duty soldier with the 41st Fires Brigade public affairs office.