AAI's pilotless plane scouts Iraqi targets

January 18, 1991|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Evening Sun Staff

For the last four years, Jim Christner had worked at the AAI Inc. plant in Hunt Valley helping produce a remotely piloted vehicle that would fly reconnaissance over battlefields.

Wednesday night, when allied forces attacked Iraq and Kuwait, they were guided by the information gathered from the aircraft Christner and about 100 other AAI employees had produced.

"There is a general sense of great pride that the company was allowed to participate in the defense of the country," said Christner, a field operations manager for the Pioneer remotely piloted vehicle.

Yesterday, Christner was waiting word on how the equipment had performed. Given the reported success of allied bombings, he surmised that the Pioneer had done its surveillance job well.

But the Pioneer, like many of the new sophisticated weapons and defense systems, had never been tested in combat. The war is providing the first chance of the military to use many of its expensive weapons.

Christner said he was especially proud of the Pioneer because could save the lives of pilots. Until a few years ago, the only way to fly over areas to seek out targets or assess damage was to send pilots into the air to look. Now the remotely piloted vehicles can be operated from ships or bases a safe distance from the hostilities.

"This is something new," Christner said. "This is the next wave of electronic hardware."

AAI expects to continue producing the devices through the year 2000. Already the system has brought the company between $80 million and $90 million, Christner said.

The war baptized not only the Pioneer, but also the LANTIRN navigation and targeting system produced by Bethesda-based Martin Marietta Corp.'s plant in Orlando, Fla.

LANTIRN, or Low-Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infared system for Night, was deployed on the Air Force F-15Es, the attack aircraft which were described as providing a key element for the U.S. air strike.

Martin Marietta has 1,500 workers employed producing the $2.9 billion LANTIRN system.

Local defense contractors also contributed to the war effort. Martin Marietta's vertical launch system, which is produced at its plant in Middle River, was used to launch missiles from Navy ships during the attacks.

And the AWACS radar system, produced by Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group, was deployed on aircraft to provide surveillance over a wide area.

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