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RQ-7 Shadow UAV

The RQ-7 Shadow is a purpose-built tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (TUAV) operated by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. Equipped with an electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) sensor turret that collects video during day or night, the Shadow UAV is used for reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA). The Shadow was employed in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and has flown more than 500,000 hours since in the Iraq War and other operations. In 2007 the Marine Corp transitioned from the RQ-2 Pioneer to the RQ-7 Shadow. Several other nations, including Australia and Pakistan, also operate Shadow UAVs.

RQ-7B Shadow 200 beloning to Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1, sits on top of its launcher before a training flight aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, 27 July 2009. The launcher ejects the unmanned aircraft at speeds exceeding 20 mph to get the 375-pound aircraft airborne
RQ-7B Shadow 200 beloning to Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1, sits on top of its launcher before a training flight aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, 27 July 2009. The launcher ejects the unmanned aircraft at speeds exceeding 20 mph to get the 375-pound aircraft airborne.

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Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV): RQ-7 Shadow Development

In the eraly 1990s, the U.S. Army's tactical UAV (TUAV) program lay dormant while the Army and Navy cooperated on a joint program, but Army TUAV was revived with the RQ-5 Hunter. The Army had its own operational needs, including shorter range, a gas-powered engine, and carrying capacity for an electro-optical/infrared sensor turret.

In December 1999, the Army chose the AAI Corporation Shadow 200 over the beleaguered RQ-6 TUAV Outrider as an off-the-shelf solution that met the Army's capabilities and cost requirements. AAI received a low-rate initial production (LRIP) contract to provide Shadow 200s for evaluation and testing. The Army designated the Shadow 200 the RQ-7A. By October 2002, the RQ-7A Shadow had completed testing successfully and was approved for full-rate production.

The Shadow has a twin-boom pusher configuration, and is powered by a UEL AR-741 rotary engine. Its tricycle landing gear does not retract. The Shadow has a service ceiling of 15,000 feet, and a range of 68 miles, or a flight time of six hours.

The AAI Shadow can launch from a conventional airstrip or from a trailer-mounted pneumatic catapult that accelerates the UAV to 60 knots in 15 feet. The Shadow lands using a Tactical Automatic Landing System developed by the Sierra Nevada Corporation, comprised of ground-based micro-millimeter radar and an onboard transponder. The Shadow is guided to its landing, and then can land in a conventional manner, or use its tailhook to catch an arresting wire linked to two disk brake drums that stop it in less than 170 feet.

The Shadow can carry one of several payloads. The Army Shadow uses a POP-200 or POP-300 lightweight electro-optical system from Israeli Aircraft Industries. This system consists of a a gimbal-mounted, digitally-stabilized, liquid nitrogen-cooled electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) camera. It relays video in real time via a C-band line-of-sight (LOS) data link to the ground control station.

In February 2008 the Army began installing Falcon III AN/PRC-152 radios from Harris Corporation. These radios include SINCGARS capability, extending the communications range for ground troops beyond line-of-sight.

Other payloads include the WESCAM 11SST (Step-Stare Turret). This lightweight system can monitor a large area, capturing seven frames of video per second, compressing the video images, and relaying the results to the control station. There, the images are tiled together to create a high-resolution view of a large area. The Shadow can also carry an geo-positioning and image processing package for automatic location-finding and target-tracking, or a third-generation forward-looking infrared (FLIR) system, laser rangefinder, or color daylight CCD sensor with zoom optics.

The Shadow UAV is part of a system that comprises four aircraft and the air vehicle transporter (AVT), which carries the aircraft, ground control station (GCS), and launcher. The M1152 up-armored HMMVV is used to carry the GCS and its associated ground data terminal (GDT). The GCS generates commands for the UAV, while the GDT handles the transfer of data and commands between the aircraft and ground, and displays incoming video imagery and aircraft telemetry.

As of 2004, the U.S. Army had ordered 33 Shadow systems, with over 140 aircraft. By June 2007, the Army had ordered more than 74 systems, including 296 aircraft and 148 ground control systems. There were two major variants:

Model RQ-7A

RQ-7A, the initial production version of the Shadow UAV, first saw action in 2002. Full-scale production began in 2003. The "A" variant had a wing length of 11 feet and 2 inches, used the AR741-1100 engine and the POP200 payload from Israeli Aircraft Industries.

Model RQ-7B

RQ-7B is a significantly improved version of the Shadow UAV. AAI Corporation increased the wing length to 14 feet, and improved fuel storage and payload capacity to allow for seven hours of flight time. Other improvements include use of the AR741-1101 engine, upgraded avionics, the more recent POP300 sensor package, and the Army's Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL). Production of the RQ-7B began in August 2004.

RQ-7 Shadow Operational History

The Shadow was not ready for operation at the time of the 2001 US campaign in Afghanistan, although it did fly operational missions during the Invasion of Iraq in 2003. Iraq was a challenging environment for UAVs for the same reasons it was difficult for other hardware: heat and sand caused engine failures that led to changes in operating procedures and systems technology to preserve the aircraft.

The Marine Corps started its transition to the Shadow in 2007. Marine Corps VMU-1, VMU-2, and VMU-3 have Shadow systems. Marine VMU Shadow systems consist of four air vehicles and two ground control stations.

As of 2010, both the Army and Marines were exploring the use of munitions with the Shadow. Ratheon had successful tests of the Small Tactical Munition with the Shadow. The use of QuickMEDS for delivering medical supplies to inaccessible areas was also investigated.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a special airworthiness certificate (experimental) to the Shadow system, the first UAV to be certified. The FAA has authorized the Shadow to operate at Benson Municipal Airport in Arizona.

The Army's 1st Battalion, 210th Aviation Regiment, stationed at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, handled Shadow training for Soldiers, Marines, and civilians.

Characteristics of the RQ-7 Shadow

PayloadEO/IR sensor package
Engine38hp UEL AR-741 rotary
Speed103 mph cruising; 127 mph maximum
Range68 mi (6 hours flight time)
Ceiling15,000 ft.
Span12 ft. 9 in.
Length11 ft. 2 in.
Height3.0 ft.
Weight165 lbs. empty; 328 lbs. loaded

RQ-7B Shadow UAV
RQ-7B Shadow UAV.

RQ-7B with Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3 takes off at the Combat Center's Expeditionary Air Field, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, CA, 3 Aug 2010.
RQ-7B with Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3 takes off at the Combat Center's Expeditionary Air Field, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, CA, 3 Aug 2010.

RQ-7B Shadow 200 belonging to Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1, lands after more than two-hours of flight aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, 27 July 2009
RQ-7B Shadow 200 belonging to Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1, lands after more than two-hours of flight aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, 27 July 2009.

RQ-7 Shadow launching from a pneumatic/hydraulic catapult system, Fort Sill, OK
RQ-7 Shadow launching from a pneumatic/hydraulic catapult system, Fort Sill, OK.

Recommended Books about the RQ-7 Shadow and UAVs

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