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SnowGoose: UAVs Enter the Airlift Business

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

ST INIGOES, Md., July 16, 2003 – The popular idea of unmanned aerial vehicles is that they are like aggrandized radio-controlled planes, good only for reconnaissance and scouting.

But the UAV flight demonstration at Naval Air Station Patuxent River's Webster Field July 14 showed there's more to the story.

These days UAVs carry weapons. Some Predator UAVs, now flying missions over Iraq and Afghanistan, are armed with Hellfire missiles. The Air Force and Navy are working together to develop unmanned combat aerial vehicles capable of delivering ordnance with pinpoint accuracy in combat zones deemed too "hot" for manned aircraft.

And UAVs also may start doing airlift missions. A Canadian firm has developed a UAV capable of delivering supplies to special operations forces. One, called the SnowGoose, can be dropped from another aircraft or launched off the back of a Humvee.

The SnowGoose promises pinpoint delivery of small cargoes. U.S. Special Operations Command has bought five of the aircraft, according to MIST Mobility Integrated Systems Technology, Inc. U.S. officials said the command could ultimately buy 74 of the UAVs.

The aircraft operates with a parasail and a "pusher" propeller engine. It can operate at altitudes ranging from 200 feet to 18,000 feet. It is virtually undetectable at altitudes of 2,000 feet or more. "That's a good thing, because it cruises at about 35 knots," said Sean McCann, a company representative who showed off the SnowGoose at the flight demonstration.

The SnowGoose could be used to drop leaflets, small amounts of ammunition, medical supplies and other equipment. "Mogadishu would have been a perfect place for this type of capability," said Clark Butner, a UAV specialist with Naval Air Systems Command's special communications requirements division. He was referring to 1993 U.S. military operations in the Somali capital when 18 Rangers helping to conduct a mission to capture warlords were killed.

"The Rangers didn't bring their (night optical devices) when they went on the mission," Butner noted. "This aircraft could have dropped NODs to them, delivered plasma to them and dropped ammo."

A small laptop computer allows technicians to program in a mission, which can proceed without another command from the ground. Right now, once the mission is launched, planners cannot change it. However, MMIST is working with the UAV Systems Office in Huntsville, Ala., on an advanced concept technology demonstration that will allow planners to change the mission at any time.

"The (Airborne Guidance Unit) provides all the flight control," McCann said. "Payload bins are automatically released, taking wind speed and direction into consideration. The AGU calculates the release points in flight and are based on real-time wind measurements."

McCann stated the aircraft can change position up to six kilometers due to varying conditions.

The aircraft doesn't need a runway, and a four-man team can operate it. Butner said a team could learn to operate the system in 10 days. "It's not complicated," he said. The most complicated thing may be repacking the parasail after a mission, he said.

Each SnowGoose costs around $250,000.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageCompany representative Sean McCann speaks with Marines about the SnowGoose at the UAV flight demonstration site at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., July 14. The UAV can take off from a Humvee or be dropped from an aircraft. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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