> our title:

Aviation Brigade Takes Control of US Army UAVs in Middle Easy

> original title:

40th CAB Takes Charge of UAS Missions In the Middle East

(Source: US Army; issued Jan 17, 2016)

SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE EAST --- Last month the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade took command of Army Central’s aviation missions in the Middle East. One of these missions is armed aerial reconnaissance.

When the 40th CAB deployed to Iraq in 2011, the brigade’s primary reconnaissance aircraft were the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters. When Soldiers of the 40th CAB took on its new mission Dec. 20, the famous Kiowas didn’t join them. The brigade’s aerial reconnaissance mission is now supplemented by the MQ-1C Gray Eagle and the RQ-7 Shadow.

Company F, 227th Aviation Regiment, 40th CAB, based out of Fort Hood, Texas, flies and maintains the brigade’s Gray Eagles. Company F arrived in the Middle East four months ago.

The Gray Eagle is a medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial system that has been in service since 2009. With a wingspan of 56 ft., improved fuel-capacity and payload, the Gray Eagle is more reliable and flexible than previous UAS aircraft used by the Army.

“When I joined and I first heard ‘UAS’ I thought of a small plane that you could throw, I didn’t imagine it would be something of this caliber,” said Spc. Zachary Wikel, a Company F UAS operator.

Unmanned aircraft give ground commanders continuous surveillance for ground threats – and eliminate these threats with precise air-to-surface missile strikes – all without putting American Soldiers at risk.

“The biggest advantage of the Gray Eagles is that they are unmanned, they don’t put a flight crew at risk,” said Sgt. Chris Runck, a Company F UAS operator.

Flying and maintaining Gray Eagles is not a job that comes without difficulties. Gray Eagle operators face long hours of boredom in a job where even a few minutes of complacency can be deadly. Though all of the action is hundreds of miles away, viewable only through a video feed, even a small mistake can have very real consequences.

“Unmanned aviation is very different from manned aviation,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Howell, a Company F platoon sergeant and UAS repairer from Palm Bay, Florida. “It’s a challenge we have to adapt to and overcome.”