Thursday, November 16, 2023

Droning Away

So, back in the day, I was sent TAD for an exercise to a replenishment ship. The food was decent and the ossifer staterooms were nice. It was the only ship I'd ever been on where anyone other than the captain had a porthole in the room. But I digress.

I was sent as an umpire, which meant I got to judge whether or not any simulated weapons it fired were hits or whether anyone hit them. At one point, a green flare popped out from the sea at 3,000 yards. The captain suggested that, as the ship carried a shitload of ammuntion and explosives, that it be credited a kill on the sub due to the (simulated) explosion of the cargo. I went with that. But I digress.

The main function of the ship in the excercise was as a drone platform. A drone detachment came on board with a bunch of some flavor of MQM-74 target drones. The drones would be flown in attack profiles at other ships, which would shoot at them with various AAW missiles. Those missiles had target packages instead of warheads, which measured how close they came to the drones. One of the 1052s with BPDMS actually shot down two of the drones. The admiral running the excercise said, over secure UHF, something like: "[Name of ship], I don't like losing two drones, but I can't fault your shooting. Well done." But I digress.

The drones were launched from the ship's helo deck from a pretty basic launching cradle. The drone crew would set up the drone, start its engine, rev it up and then the drone was flung into the air by a RATO bottle, which dropped away after launch. The drone pilot had a control panel that had some basic feedback from the drone (somewhat short of a sixpack). He would be told which way to steer the drone and such, I don't know if he had a R/T setup for if it was by phone-talker from CIC. He'd fly the drone around until it was low on fuel (if it wasn't shot down), then he'd fly it back near the ship, pop the drone's parachute and shut down the engine. The drone would float into the water, the ship would maneuver close by and the bosun's mates would host it back aboard.

I asked the drone driver how he got that gig, as he was wearing naval aviator wings. He said that he had crashed (and ejected from) a F-4. That screwed him up physically enough to disqualify him from flying (not to mention some issues about whether or not the crash was his fault), so the Navy sent him around on TAD to fly drones until the powers that be figured out what to do with him. Which I guess was better than the alternative.

No comments: