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Sgt. James Lyons, 25 from Steubenville, Ohio, Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 4 avionics technician, performs preflight maintenance on an RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aircraft before the squadron’s inaugural flight at Auxiliary Airfield 2 in Yuma, Ariz., Sept. 28, 2010. During the flight, the squadron showcased the aircraft’s reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities with a live video feed from the Shadow’s onboard camera. The Yuma detachment of the Texas-based reserve squadron is the only operational component of the unit and is composed of mostly active duty Marines. The detachment, which began assembling at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz., in June, has four Shadows and consists of approximately 40 Marines.

Photo by Cpl. Austin Hazard

VMU-4 casts Shadow over Yuma

30 Sep 2010 | Cpl. Austin Hazard

The Corps’ newest unmanned aerial vehicle squadron debuted its capabilities with the maiden flight of one of its RQ-7B Shadow aircraft at the Barry M. Goldwater Range east of the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz., Sept. 29, 2010.

The Yuma-stationed detachment of VMU-4 showcased its operational readiness with a 40-minute flight and reconnaissance demonstration at the range’s Auxiliary Airfield 2. The squadron also performed a test flight Sept. 28, 2010, to ensure the aircraft and all supporting systems functioned properly.

During the Shadow’s flight, the squadron displayed the aircraft’s live video feed, demonstrating its use in combat surveillance and reconnaissance operations.

“This first flight is the point which we step off from in being able to train with and support other units,” said Maj. Brian Cole, detachment commander. “We’re not a fully capable VMU yet, but this signifies the start of the process to become one.”

Despite the detachment’s mission readiness, the bulk of the squadron, based in Texas, has yet to be established.

“It’s a tremendous thing they’ve done,” said Col. Peter Yeager, commanding officer of Marine Air Control Group 48, the parent command for VMU-4. “These Marines got this done in under six months. They went from nothing to being able to put an aircraft in the air.”

The flight is significant because the squadron is the first unmanned aircraft squadron in the Marine Corps Reserves’ 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, said Yeager.

The detachment’s mission in Yuma is to support training here, including the Weapons and Tactics Instructor course, and to eventually deploy to combat zones.

“The intent of VMU-4 is to relieve some of the other VMUs and deploy ourselves,” said Cole. “That probably won’t happen for at least another year, but we want to be as ready as possible when it happens.”

The detachment is currently limited to where it can fly and land its aircraft due to Federal Aviation Administration regulations. The regulations state that, without the proper certification, the aircraft cannot fly in civilian airspace, which blocks the way to various training ranges.

“We have requested a certificate of authority from the FAA, which would allow us to fly from the Barry M. Goldwater Range, through civilian airspace, and into the Chocolate Mountain ranges,” said Cole. “We just have to wait for the approval before we can do so.”

In the meantime, the squadron will have to launch and retrieve its aircraft in whatever area it wants to train.

The detachment is slated to support the current WTI alongside VMU-3. The Marines of VMU-3 will participate in the training evolution using the detachment’s equipment and aircraft, passing on their knowledge to the less experienced members of the detachment in the process.

After WTI, the detachment plans to support future training in Yuma and other exercises on its own.

The detachment, which began assembling here in June, currently has four Shadows and approximately 40 Marines.

There are currently three other VMUs in the Corps, each with approximately 12 aircraft.

The Shadow is a small unmanned aircraft designed for reconnaissance and surveillance operations. By using of a powerful, onboard camera system, operators are able to survey areas both day and night through a live video feed.

Operators are able to control the Shadow from the back of special Humvees, which serve as ground control stations. VMU-4 currently has two such Humvees.

The aircraft takes off via a crossbow-like launcher and lands on a runway or expeditionary airfield like a normal airplane.

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