Thursday, April 27, 2006

Predator Aircraft Making Big Impact in Iraq

KSL-5's Kerry Barrett spent much of last month embedded in Iraq, following some Utah airmen. One of the many things she saw there was an unmanned aircraft called the Predator. Those who know it say it is the future of the Air Force and a big part of life at Balad Air Base, and Life at War.

They're quiet and relatively slow, but they sure are making a loud impact on the war in Iraq. Unmanned aircraft, Predators specifically, do all sorts of things your typical fighter jet cannot.

Maj. Micha Morgan, 46th Strike & Reconnaissance Squadron: "We can watch a target all day and all night if we have to."

They can stay in the air significantly longer than a fighter jet. And because they're unmanned, they can go into more dangerous situations. If they need to strike down a target, they can do that too.

"It's a very precise weapon. We can actually put it into a door, into a window, even into the back windshield of an automobile."

Even so, dropping missiles is not their primary focus.

"Everyone wants full motion video. It's the most requested asset in theatre, so any time that someone can get a Predator eyes in the sky, looking down on the ground, they call."

The mounted camera is worth more than one million dollars, but it plays an essential role in gathering information. What makes it especially handy is how slow and how long it can fly, steady enough to track a car on the streets of Balad and with images clear enough to spot insurgents on the ground.

The Predator can follow at an altitude of more than 10-thousand feet and it's too quiet to hear.

"We actually shoot our video down to the guys on the ground around the corner, watching to see what's around them."

The planes take off and land via remote control, if you will, from Balad. Then another group of pilots based in Las Vegas picks them up while they're in the air and continues the mission.

"We can call our friends in the fourth fighter squadron from Hill to come in and drop a big weapon."

Maj. Morgan says one of the biggest challenges to flying the Predator is the lack of sensory inputs because you don't have the physical sensations of flying.


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