Sky Devils Provide Critical Link to Soldiers

U.S. Army Sgt. Benjamin Yuen, left, and Pfc. Antonio Arriola, with the New Jersey National Guard, inside a ground control station for an RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aerial system on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Feb. 10, 2020. The "Sky Devils" provide surveillance and communication relays for ground forces during combat. (Photo Credit: Spc. Michael Schwenk)

New Jersey Army National Guard soldiers train daily to operate the RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle for surveillance, targeting and communications relay.

"We provide a critical link to troops on the ground," said Sgt. Benjamin Yuen, an unmanned aircraft systems operator with the Detachment 1, Delta Company, 104th Brigade Engineer Battalion Sky Devils. "The communications capabilities keep squads in touch when there's difficult terrain."

Yuen joined the New Jersey Army National Guard after serving as an infantryman in the U. S. Marine Corps. He said his experiences with infantry patrols give him a much better perspective in his job as a drone operator, understanding what soldiers on the ground are doing.

The Shadow is assisted by a hydraulic powered launcher when taking off, which can accelerate the aircraft to 70 knots in 40 feet. While airborne, the Shadow can fly about nine hours and up to 16,000 feet. The Shadow is operated by soldiers using a ground control station mounted on a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle.

Landings are guided by a ground-based micro-millimeter wavelength radar and a transponder on the aircraft. Once the aircraft touches the ground, a tailhook mounted on the Shadow grabs a wire connected to two disk brake drums that can stop the aircraft in less than 170 feet, similar to landing systems on aircraft carriers.

Even when the Shadows are on the ground, the 104th soldiers maintain daily upkeep of all the equipment that goes along with the aircraft. Soldiers handle preventive maintenance, maintain the software and apply updates, among other duties, said Staff Sgt. Matthew Hedges, a maintenance chief with the 104th.

"It feels great to be a part of this team," said Hedges. "We train all the time for a mission that saves lives downrange."