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Dean, cadets talk about UAS airmanship program
Cadet 1st Class Hal Schmidt presents information on the Air Force Academy's unmanned aerial systems research during the Unmanned Systems North America 2010 conference in Denver Aug. 27, 2010. The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International hosted the event in the Colorado Convention Center. Cadet Schmidt is an electrical engineering major and native of Cody, Wyo. Also pictured, background, are Cadet 2nd Class Christina England and Academy Dean of the Faculty Brig. Gen. Dana Born. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Don Branum)
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Dean, cadets discuss Academy's UAS program at unmanned system conference

Posted 8/31/2010   Updated 8/31/2010 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Don Branum
U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

8/31/2010 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The dean of the faculty and two unmanned aerial system instructor pilot cadets here introduced the Academy's UAS program to attendees of the Unmanned Systems North America conference in Denver Aug. 27.

Brig. Gen. Dana Born spoke about how the Academy's UAS airmanship program develops cadets' character and leadership and prepares them for roles in the operational Air Force.

"I've been to Afghanistan twice in the last year and a half and had the opportunity to go into some of our operations centers and actually watch some live missions" flown by recent Academy graduates, General Born said.

The training scenarios here closely mirror operational missions, General Born said. They also help cadets develop their ability to quickly make ethical decisions.

"There are no right or wrong answers" in the scenarios, General Born said. "There are lots of gray areas, and we want cadets to operate effectively in those areas with the principles and the passion and commitment that we can develop through the program."

Most cadets come to the Air Force Academy with little understanding of the role UASs play in the Air Force's mission. Cadet 2nd Class Christina England decided to learn more.

"I had heard about the popularity of unmanned aerial systems in the United States' war effort, and I wanted to know why there was this increasing demand for these systems," said Cadet England, a biochemistry major and Nashville native.

A typical day in UAS operations at the Academy begins with a mission briefing covering the objectives, weather information, aerospace restrictions and possible enemy countertactics, Cadet England said. After the briefing, instructor pilots assess students' knowledge of the system and run the students through a checklist to make sure they're qualified. Once that's finished, students head into the ground control station, where they rotate through three roles: sensor operator, pilot and mission commander.

Cadet England said she appreciates the opportunities the program has given her to expand her leadership skills. It also improves cadets' ability to multitask and communicate.

"My generation is one that can listen to music and text on our (phones) and check our Facebook statuses, all at the same time," she said. "It's that sort of skill that's essential in the GCS, because a key member of the crew could be listening to a new tasking order from our Air Officer Commanding, typing in a new coordinate for a target and checking the status of our aircraft simultaneously.

"In order for multitasking to be part of (operations at) the GCS, clear communication is key. Communication skills are vital in order to ensure that our mission objectives are met and every crewmember is on task," Cadet England continued.

Most importantly, she said, the program has given her a chance to develop her critical-thinking skills, which will be useful throughout her entire career.

In addition to UAS operations, several departments at the Academy conduct research into next-generation UAS concepts. Cadet 1st Class Hal Schmidt briefed the audience on some of the Academy's research programs.

"Cadets are involved in almost every level at the research that goes on in the various departments as well as the Center for UAS Research," said Cadet Schmidt, a native of Cody, Wyo., and electrical engineering major. The center's primary mission is to coordinate UAS research, which includes projects in the Aeronautical Engineering, Engineering Mechanics, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering departments.

The Academy conducts research alongside several DOD agencies, including the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Navy and the National Security Agency, General Born said.

"No other service academy is involved in as much research with external agencies," she said. "We're number one, and I sound proud, but I hope it's making you proud of your national treasure here in Colorado."

Other universities are starting to get into the UAS business as well, Cadet Schmidt said. The Academy flew in 2009 and 2010 competitions sponsored by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which also hosted the Denver conference. The number of competitors doubled in 2010 and included three international teams, two from Canada and one from India.

Cadet Schmidt said working with UAS research has given him a better understanding of systems engineering -- setting up a timeframe with milestones toward delivering a product to an end user -- as well as how to build a team using everyone's strengths.

"We had cadets from a wide variety of different majors. We had to come together and find a way to best use our various areas of expertise to accomplish our mission," he said. UAS research will allow cadets to better serve a changing Air Force in which unmanned systems will play an ever-greater role.

Before the conference, most experts in the UAS field didn't know about the Academy's UAS program, General Born said. That changed after the Academy's presentation.

"I had people come up to me and tell me, 'We had no idea your program existed,'" she said. "This was a great outreach opportunity."

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