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SFS goes unmanned over Vandenberg

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --  Airman 1st Class Jeff Knoll, 30th Security Forces Squadron, does a pre-flight check of the Raven, Vandenberg's un-manned aerial vehicle.The Raven weighs 4.5 pounds, has a five-foot wingspan and stretches only 38 inches in length. The Raven is equipped with an video camera which streams live feed to an operator on the ground. (U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Erica Stewart)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Airman 1st Class Jeff Knoll, 30th Security Forces Squadron, does a pre-flight check of the Raven, Vandenberg's un-manned aerial vehicle.The Raven weighs 4.5 pounds, has a five-foot wingspan and stretches only 38 inches in length. The Raven is equipped with an video camera which streams live feed to an operator on the ground. (U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Erica Stewart)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Everyday thousands of Team Vandenberg members come together and work as a single force to further space power on California's central coast. 

It takes exactly one unauthorized personnel in a critical area during a launch window to shut the operation down and none to put it back on track. 

This isn't a riddle; it is the reality of having a small, unmanned, aerial system. 

"This SUAS, called Raven, is an invaluable resource for Vandenberg and a priceless key to keeping on track for 100 percent mission success," said Tech. Sgt. Troy Simchak, Vandenberg wildlife and conservation officer. "We were able to pick up three personnel on Point Sal beach just prior to a launch, which could have caused a delay or stop the launch." 

The RQ-11 Raven, a four and a half pound reconnaissance tool on loan from Redstone Arsenal Army Post, Ala., is only 38 inches long, is easily transported, may take one person to maneuver and has characteristics bearing likeness to a model airplane. 

"The Raven is small and can be transported easily in three small cases that fit into a ruck sack," according to the Global Security organizational Web site. "The Raven is hand launched, has about 45 to 60 minutes of flight time on a battery and comes with spare batteries and a charger (that can plug into a Humvee), so they can land it, pop in a spare battery and get it back in the air." 

The compact Raven isn't only easy to carry but also easy to use. 

"The aircraft is very easy to operate and not very difficult at all to learn," Sergeant Simchak said. "All Raven operators complete an 80 hour training course which covers not just flying but airspace classifications, aerodynamic theory, maintenance and trouble shooting and many other subjects." 

Training covers how the Raven functions; however, only hands-on time can give the operator a proper scope of its capabilities. 

"After the 80 hour training course, the student then goes into the field to learn how it flies and observe its capabilities," Sergeant Simchak said. "This includes real-time, up-to-date, over-the-horizon view which provides up-to-the minute intelligence over the target area. Day and night, live video capabilities let the Raven greatly assist with the overall situation awareness picture." 

The Raven can fly automatically, navigating using global positioning technology and programmable routes and target areas, or be remotely flown by the operator and, when necessary, lands itself by auto-piloting to a near-hover and dropping to the ground, without requiring landing gear or carefully prepared landing strips, according the Global Security Web site. 

"Because of the way it's launched and lands, it does not require elaborate support facilities," Sergeant Simchak said. "The Raven does not need ground support teams, fuels, maintenance sections and the other support an actual aircraft or larger UAV requires." 

Just because the Raven is small, that doesn't equal its capabilities. 

"All video footage can be captured either on the laptop with the system or it can be recorded onto a standard video tape," Sergeant Simchak said. "There is even the capability of downloading live feeds directly into an IP address if the infrastructure is in place to support it." 

Vandenberg continues to pave the way for other bases as the West Coast's premiere space and missile establishment. 

"The data we have has been written into the Red Stone Tactics Techniques and Procedures," Sergeant Simchak said. "We are the first Air Force base in America to use it for day-to-day missions and have led the way with its applications."