Iraqi soldiers surrender to AAI's drones

March 02, 1991|By Ted Shelsby

It had to be a military first.

News reports out of the Persian Gulf war zone told of an Iraqi soldier spinning around and around with his hands in the air trying to attract the attention of the pilot of a small plane flying above him.

Only it wasn't a plane. It was a pilotless drone, called an RPV (remotely piloted vehicle), with a television camera mounted in its belly.

That story -- and a second one about 40 Iraqis trying to surrender to another RPV -- made its way back to AAI Corp. in Cockeysville, where the craft is made.

Asked for his reaction, Adam R. Fein, AAI's director of corporate communication, contemplated the question for a second and said, "Ah, what's the best way to put this? We think it's the first electronic capture in history."

The stories were confirmed by consultants to the crews aboard the battleship USS Missouri that operate the drones. The surrenders were viewed on television monitors on the ship.

The primary mission of the Pioneer RPV used in the war was to fly behind enemy lines and send back live television pictures of troop or tank movements.

The drones also were used as "spotters" for shelling, some of it from battleships in the gulf. If the first round was off target, the television picture from the RPV would show where it landed, and a computer would instantly calculate the adjustments needed to put the next shell on target.

The RPVs also were used to assess bomb damage.

The Pioneer has a wingspan of about 17 feet and is 14 feet long. It is powered by a 26-horsepower snowmobile engine.

Workers at AAI have built 90 of the small craft over the last 4 1/2 years, said James H. Christner, field operations manager of AAI's RPV program. Of the 34 that were assigned to the war, he said, two were shot down. A number of others returned from their assignments riddled with bullet holes.

Finding prisoners of war, said Mr. Fein, "was not one of our foreseen uses, but we are very glad that it could perform in that role as well."

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