"As the crow flies" is a common rural axiom for estimating distance. But agriculture students from Poynette High School roughly a half-hour north of Madison, Wisconsin, learned that information gained when a Raven flies could expand their career opportunities or shorten the time needed to complete a work project.
The students and three instructors were invited to an informal briefing on the RQ-11 Raven Small Unmanned Aircraft System (SUAS) at the Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry Regiment, a unit in the Wisconsin Army National Guard. The Raven - a remotely piloted aircraft small enough to be launched by hand - is used to collect visual information to help cavalry scouts in reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition and force protection. But the same type of technology and techniques could also help farmers evaluate soil erosion or crop damage.
"I'm always thinking outside the box," said Staff Sgt. Rocco Sylvester, a Wisconsin Army National Guard recruiter who is also certified on the Raven system. "I wanted to show them the Raven system and how it could benefit them in the civilian careers they might go into in the agricultural field."
According to Sgt. 1st Class David Rumary, a Raven system master trainer with the 105th Cavalry, unmanned aircraft technology is currently being examined for agriculture, as well as maritime transportation and even parcel delivery.
"Maybe if I was in a different career path I might be delivering a box of pencils ordered online to a student's home," Rumary said, adding that unmanned aircraft equipped with video cameras and ground-penetrating radar could conduct soil analysis and railroad bridge structural analysis.
"The applications are endless," Rumary said. "Pretty much any field that you might be considering will be impacted" by unmanned aircraft technology.
The Raven itself - which consists of three aircraft, two operators and sophisticated software and hardware - is not used for civilian functions. In Wisconsin, it can only be operated in designated airspace at Fort McCoy and Volk Field. Also, the Raven system is fairly expensive compared to unmanned aircraft systems available commercially.
"You don't really take into consideration how much money it costs," said Justin Feldbruegge, a Poynette High School agriculture student. "You see all these toys in the stores for $30, and you don't really think the professional version would be too much, but then you get here. It was very educational."
Chris Murphy, a Poynette High School agriculture instructor, said he wanted the students to see what the unmanned aircraft could do and how they could be used.
"Also, we really try to emphasize career opportunities with our students, so we wanted to expose them to the Army National Guard as well as possible opportunities for employment utilizing" unmanned aircraft, Murphy said. "[The information was] very applicable, right on. We were very pleased. It's really exciting."