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RQ-2 Pioneer UAV

The RQ-2 Pioneer is an unmanned aerial vehicle used by the U.S. Navy, Army, and Marine Corps. Originally developed in Israel, the Navy acquired this UAV in July 1986. The Marine Corps adopted the Pioneer in July 1987 and the Army, in March 1990. The Pioneer is used to conduct Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition (RSTA), as well as battle damage assessment missions. The Pioneer has flown over 23,000 hours in direct support of Navy and Marine operations. The operational success of the RQ-2 Pioneer spurred interest and development of UAVs in all branches of the U.S. military.

3rd Marine Air Wing UAV mechanic SGT Daniel J. Bowman lifts the nose cover of an RQ-2B Pioneer unmanned aerial vehicle at Al Taqaddum, Iraq, 2 May 2006
3rd Marine Air Wing UAV mechanic SGT Daniel J. Bowman lifts the nose cover of an RQ-2B Pioneer unmanned aerial vehicle at Al Taqaddum, Iraq, 2 May 2006.

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Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV): RQ-2 Pioneer Development

The RQ-2 Pioneer was developed by Israel Aircraft Industries and AAI Corporation. Based on the Tadrian Mastiff UAV developed in Israel, the Pioneer was upgraded to carry a heavier payload at the request of the Navy.

The Pioneer was given a Fitchel & Sachs SF2-350 two-cylinder two-stroke engine to replace the less powerful "Limach" engine of similar configuration. The new engine got a 29-inch propeller from Sensenich Propeller Manufacturing Company in Lancaster, PA, to replace the older 28-inch propeller from Propeller Engineering and Duplicating, Inc. in San Clemente, CA.

The aircraft design is a twin-boom pusher configuration. The Pioneer can be launched from a runway, catapult, or by rocket assist onboard Navy ships, using the MK 125 MOD 2 solid-propellant rocket booster. A truck mounted launcher for the RQ-2A Pioneer RPV is pictured on the linked page. Landing is accomplished using a recovery net or arresting gear. Its tricycle landing gear does not retract.

The Pioneer is approximately half the size of the Predator. It can reach heights of approximately 15,000 ft., though its operational altitude is between 3,000 and 5,000 ft. The Pioneer can operate over a range of 100 nautical miles and remain aloft for five hours during daytime.

The onboard payload of a Pioneer includes a Wescam DS-12 electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor that relays analog video through line-of-sight (LOS) communications. Other payloads have included meteorological sensors, mine detection sensor, and chemical detection sensor.

Early-on the Pioneer had no official military designation. The Department of Defense introduced the "Q" designation for UAVs in January 1997. The Pioneer was given the RQ-2A designation at this time, with the "R" standing for reconnaissance.

In the 1990s AAI and IAI improved the Pioneer, adding a UAV Common Automatic Recovery System (UCARS) and Modular Integrated Avionics Group (MIAG). This new configuration is designated the RQ-2B. Approximately 30 older Pioneers have been upgraded to this standard.

RQ-2 Pioneer Operational History

The Pioneer was first deployed by the Navy from battleships, including the USS Iowa (BB 61), USS Wisconsin (BB 64) and three LHA vessels. Later the Navy shifted its deployment to amphibious forces aboard the Austin-class Landing Platform Docks (LPDs).

The low radar cross-section (RCS), reduced silhouette, and minimal infrared signature of the Pioneer increase aircraft survivability. Easy deployment and simple operation make the Pioneer a versatile platform for its RSTA role.

The Pioneer flew 533 sorties during Operation Desert Storm. Used for surveillance and defining accuracy for battleship's 16-in. guns, the Iraqi military feared the sight and distinctive buzzing sound of the Pioneer.

In one case, Iraqi troops surrendered to a Pioneer from the USS Wisconsin. On 23 February 1991, the Wisconsin was preparing to attack Faylaka Island after the USS Missouri (BB-63) completed its shelling. The Wisconsin, positioned out of sight over the horizon, launched its Pioneer and directed it to fly low over Iraqi forces. The Iraqi troops heard the buzzing UAV and signaled their desire to surrender. This marked the first time enemy forces surrendered to any UAV. This particular Pioneer is now housed at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC.

Army Pioneers were transferred to the Navy in 1995 when the Army received the RQ-5 Hunter UAV as replacement.

The Pioneer was also operated for reconnaissance in Somalia (UNOSOM II), Bosnia, Kosovo, and in Iraq during and after Operation Iraqi Freedom. As of 2005, the Navy had two operational Pioneer systems, with one used for training, and the Marines had two systems. In each case, the system comprises five or more Pioneers plus support equipment.

A total of 175 Pioneers were delivered, with some operating in Singapore. Within the U.S. military the Pioneer is slated for retirement, with the MQ-8 Fire Scout to replace it.

Characteristics of the RQ-2 Pioneer

PayloadEO/IR sensor package
Engine26 hp Fitchel & Sachs SF2-350 two-cylinder two-stroke
Speed127 mph)
Range62.1 miles, 5 hours flight time
Ceiling15,000 ft.
Span16.9 ft.
Length14 ft.
Height3.3 ft.
Weight392 lbs. empty; 452 lbs. max

RQ-2B Pioneer unmanned aerial vehicles sit in 3rd Marine Air Wing, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2's hangar bay at Al Taqaddum, Iraq, 2 May 2006
RQ-2B Pioneer unmanned aerial vehicles sit in 3rd Marine Air Wing, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2's hangar bay at Al Taqaddum, Iraq, 2 May 2006.

A Pioneer Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV) is launched from the battleship USS <i>Wisconsin</i> (BB-64) while deployed in the Gulf in support of Operation Desert Shield, 1991
A Pioneer Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV) is launched from the battleship USS Wisconsin (BB-64) while deployed in the Gulf in support of Operation Desert Shield, 1991.

A Pioneer I remotely-piloted vehicle (RPV) is caught in a recovery net erected on the stern of the battleship USS <i>Iowa</i> (BB 61), December 1986. The RPV, which carries a stabilized televison camera and a laser designator, is operated aboard the <i>Iowa</i> for basis gunfire support with over-the-horizon targeting and reconnaissance capabilities. The system may be operated out to a range of 110 miles from the battleship surface group and has an endurance of eight hours.
A Pioneer I remotely-piloted vehicle (RPV) is caught in a recovery net erected on the stern of the battleship USS Iowa (BB 61), December 1986. The RPV, which carries a stabilized televison camera and a laser designator, is operated aboard the Iowa for basis gunfire support with over-the-horizon targeting and reconnaissance capabilities. The system may be operated out to a range of 110 miles from the battleship surface group and has an endurance of eight hours.

A Marine Corps 3rd RPV Platoon Pioneer remotely piloted vehicle (RPV) touches down on the runway after a flight during Operation Desert Shield, 1992
A Marine Corps 3rd RPV Platoon Pioneer remotely piloted vehicle (RPV) touches down on the runway after a flight during Operation Desert Shield, 1992.

A Pioneer I Remotely-Piloted Vehicle (RPV) is launched during a rocket-booster assisted takeoff from the stern of the battleship USS <i>Iowa</i> (BB-61), November 1986.
A Pioneer I Remotely-Piloted Vehicle (RPV) is launched during a rocket-booster assisted takeoff from the stern of the battleship USS Iowa (BB-61), November 1986.

USMC RQ-2A Pioneer Option II Plus, Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV) conducts a daytime reconnaissance mission over Blair Field in Al Kut, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom
USMC RQ-2A Pioneer Option II Plus, Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV) conducts a daytime reconnaissance mission over Blair Field in Al Kut, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Recommended Books about the RQ-2 Pioneer and UAVs

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