BOARDMAN — Before a recent Oregon National Guard training, the last time North Coast resident Spc. Chris Scott flew a Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – more commonly known as a drone – was in 2011 during a deployment to Iraq.

However, the aircraft/payload operator didn’t miss a beat during a flight at the Naval Weapons Systems Training Facility Boardman, also known as the Boardman Bombing Range.

Members of Detachment 1 Bravo Company 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, based in Pendleton, participated in the training launches at nearby Boardman, which has been used for drone launches only once before.

The facility in Boardman, said Lt. Col. Alan Gronewold, is the only place in Oregon where such training can occur.

“Boardman is very important to us because UAVs must fly only at restricted air space,” Chief Warrant Officer Mark Braeme said.

The airstrip is a gravel clearing amongst miles of sagebrush and an occasional road. The crew chiefs shrug off pushing the RQ-7B Shadow 50 to 60 yards into place.

Spc. Marcus Kellogg said while deployed in Iraq, they sometimes had to push the 375-pound aircraft 200 yards. One makeshift airstrip was created using Air Force pallets as a roadway, while another airstrip was an asphalt runway, he said.

“This is what we have here, so we work with what we have,” Kellogg said.

Cheaper process

Braeme said using the RQ-7B Shadow for missions is cheaper to operate than launching a helicopter.

“It saves the government thousands of dollars,” he said.

During the unit’s recent deployment to Iraq, drones were used daily. They were operated for more than 20 hours in a 24-hour period, seven days a week, Braeme said.

Another benefit of the UAV, he said, is the lower maintenance needs. The Shadow only requires an hour of maintenance for every 10 hours of flight time compared to manned aircraft, which require an hour of maintenance per hour of flight.

Ground commanders, Braeme said, like working with the Shadow, as well.

“We provide real-time video. He can see what we’re seeing,” Braeme said.

That enables ground commanders to make decisions on the spot.

The Shadow also is a hit with Scott and other aircraft/payload operators and crew chiefs.

“Our crew chiefs are the unsung heroes,” Braeme said.

Their role includes fixing things that need repair so the Shadow is ready for its next flight.

Spc. Max Kellogg smiles as he goes over checklists with other crew chiefs and aircraft/payload operators.

“We’re checking to make sure everything works before we put the bird in the air,” he said.

Scott, who enlisted in March 2009, completed training as an aircraft/payload operator in May 2010. He initially sought the specialized training as a stepping stone for manned flights. However, Scott now wants to stick with flying drones.

“I like the group we’re with,” he said. “We’re good at what we do.”

Braeme agreed.

“They performed amazingly,” he said about the unit’s deployment, which was given on 30 days notice. “They did some amazing things in very bad conditions.”

Other uses

During the training exercise, the Kellogg brothers were the first to approach the drone after it landed.

Marcus Kellogg pushed the aircraft off the runway and immediately he and several other crew chiefs began checking every inch of the aircraft.

In addition to deployment missions overseas, Braeme said the unit can assist with natural disasters, as well as assisting with counting species, helping with manhunts and searching for drug grows.

Using drones, he said, is the wave of the future.

“They are one of the most requested units,” Braeme said.

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