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The RQ-21A Blackjack belonging to Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 runs through pre-flight system checks at Marine Corps Outlying Field Atlantic, March 21, 2014. The Blackjack provides intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communication for combatant commanders and troops on the ground.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Joshua R. Heins

VMU-2 exercises new expeditionary capability

26 Mar 2014 | Lance Cpl. Joshua R. Heins

Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 took two RQ-21A Blackjack air vehicles to the sky for the first time at Marine Corps Outlying Field Atlantic, March 20 and 21, 2014.

VMU-2 is quickly improving on their ability to provide strategic advantages for the Marine Corps’ UAV program, with the addition of the Blackjack.

“This system is for VMU-2,” said 1st Lt. Anthony Atchley, an unmanned aerial vehicle commander with the squadron. “We will be the first RQ-21 squadron for the Marine Corps.”

VMU-2 provides aerial intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing and II Marine Expeditionary Force.

“We provide over-watch to give a warm and fuzzy feeling for the guys on the ground, knowing that somebody is up there with an eye in the sky taking care of them,” said Atchley.

The RQ-21A brings more flexibility than past UAVs like the RQ-7B Shadow air vehicle, according to Atchley.

“This platform allows us to be a little more expeditionary,” he said. “Also, with this particular system, the picture is quite a bit clearer and (the RQ-21A) is a whole lot quieter than the old system, which allows us to get a lot closer to the enemy.”

The Blackjack is also more field expedient with a more compact launch and retrieval system.

“With the past platforms we required a runway,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Fantz, an unmanned aerial vehicle operator with the squadron. “With the way this system launches and lands it does not require a runway, which enhances the expeditionary capabilities of the Marine Corps.”

The system uses an arresting-wire system, according to Fantz. As the UAV approaches, a hook on the aircraft catches a wire on the retrieval platform, catching and stopping it in mid-flight.

This system is very capable to deploy and meet the needs of combatant commanders and troops on the ground, said Fantz. The platform will also provide a smaller footprint, which makes the Blackjack a valuable asset to the Marine Corps, while reinforcing the need for the UAV community as a whole.

“The interaction between the software and the pilots works very well,” said Atchley. “The system is a lot more intuitive giving the pilots more ease in the operation. The platform provides better communication than its predecessors. This field is only going to grow for us and (the RQ-21A) is a big jump forward.”
Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point