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RQ-2 Pioneer

The Pioneer Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) system provides real-time intelligence and reconnaissance capability to the field commander. This highly mobile system provides high quality video imagery for artillery or naval gun fire adjustment, battle damage assessment and reconnaissance over land or s ea.

A typical Pioneer system consists of up to eight air vehicles (a typical system utilizes five aircraft), a Ground Control Station, a Tracking Communication Unit, a Portable Control Station, four Remote Receiving Stations, pneumatic or rocket assisted launchers and net or runway arrestment recovery systems.

Since the initiation of the Tactical UAV ACTD in 1996, only reliability and maintainability improvements to Pioneer have been authorized. The number of deployed Pioneer systems is to be reduced from the current six to two by 2003, at which time VTUAVs are to begin entering operations. Pioneer is to be entirely supplanted by the VTUAV in the 2003-05 timeframe.


Since 1990, the Pioneer air vehicle's structural components have been modified to incorporate reliability and maintainability improvement, including a streamlined fuselage design that results in mission endurance capabilities exceeding six hours. The vehicle is equipped with high quality video sensors capable of performing accurate surveillance and reconnaissance missions under adverse environments and battlefield conditions. Outfitted with auto pilot, navigation and communication equipment and operating in either preprogrammed or manual control modes, the Pioneer performs its mission in are as where manned aircraft cannot survive.

Ground Control Station

The heart of the Pioneer system is the GCS-2000. This sophisticated control center directs the UAV throughout the mission from the safety of the highly mobile militarized shelter. Whether land-based or ship-based, the advanced electronics aid in mission planning and efficient execution of the most complex missions. The GCS consists of three electronics bays manned by two operators. The Pilot Bay includes all controls and displays required for safe effective operation of the airborne vehicle. The Observer Bay provides control and display of the imaging payloads carried by the vehicle. The Tracking Bay displays the UAV position, utilizing data obtained from the Tracking Communication Unit.

Tracking Communication Unit

The Tracking Communication Unit (TCU), housed in a separate S-250 shelter, contains a sophisticated jam-resistant 185-kilometer (100-nm) range data link. The unmanned TCU contains UAV communication equipment and antennas. The ability to access the TCU remotely by fiber-optic link -- up to 3280 ft ( 1,000 m) from the GCS -- enhances the survivability of the system and operating personnel.

Data Link

The Pioneer system utilizes a jam-resistant, direct sequence spread spectrum up-link command channel at C-band. The video and telemetry down-link, also at C-band, utilizes a state-of-the-art high-power solid-state amplifier and directional antennas on both the TCU and air vehicle, assuring excellent quality video for the commander in the field. An omni-directional UHF backup link is provided for redundancy in this key subsystem.

Portable Control Station

The Portable Control Station (PCS) provides the external pilot the capability to control the UAV during preflight, launch and recovery operations. Easily transportable in either manpack or S-250 configurations, the PCS is designed to operate UAVs in a designated launch and recovery area, freeing the GCS for other battlefield assignments.

Remote Receiving Station

The small ruggedized Remote Receiving Station (RRS) provides real-time reception of the UAV video picture at remote locations. This capability allows a field commander to have immediate reconnaissance of an operational area and to view the impact of any changes to his battle plan.


Currently fielded are the gyro-stabilized high-resolution TV or FLIR payloads for day and night or reduced visibility operations. Also available for integration and testing is a radio relay payload for VHF and UHF frequencies. Recent demonstration programs have successfully integrated meteorological sensor, radial sensor, chemical detection and COMINT payloads into the Pioneer system. Additional payloads are being scheduled for integration and testing on-board the Pioneer.


A competitive fly-off was conducted and two Pioneer systems were procured in December 1985 for an accelerated testing program to be conducted during 1986. The initial system delivery was made in July 1986 and subsequently deployed on board the battleship USS Iowa in December 1986. During 1987, three additional systems were delivered to the USMC where they were operationally deployed on board LHA-class vessels as well as with several land-based units. The system became a genuine joint service program in 1990 when the U.S. Army fielded its Pioneer system.

When Navy Tactical UAV System enters the Navy and Marine Corps inventory, Pioneer systems will be phased out. The Pioneer air vehicles have logged over 12,000 flight hours with the U.S. Navy, USMC and U.S. Army.


Version 11.0 Software Functionality

Version 11.0 software was incorporated into a Pioneer Version 12.0 software baseline. All previous version 11.0 functionality in addition to CARS functionality was included. The test effort was initiated with an aggressive schedule and immediately encountered software problems early in its acceptance phase. Since Version 11.0 functionality forms the basis for several other software and hardware upgrades to the Pioneer, those programs have been affected as well. Combined government/contractor software testing is ongoing, with automated testing being conducted 24 hours a day to identify and correct the discrepancies

Common Automated Recovery System (CARS)

CARS is a system involving both hardware and software modifications to the Pioneer and Ground Control Station (GCS) being designed to give the Pioneer hands-off automatic precision approach and recovery capability. It uses a microwave Ka-band radar to track, fly, and recover the Pioneer automatically (conceptually similar to a Mode I carrier approach). Although primarily intended for shipboard (net) recoveries for Pioneer, land-based runway operations are also possible. The CARS program has been delayed due to Version 11.0 software delays.

Pioneer Digital Map System (PDMS)

PDMS is a PC-based hardware/software system that will replace the mechanical pen-and-chart system used to display the UAV's geographical location and provide situational awareness to the mission commander, remote pilot and payload operator in the Pioneer GCS. It will use National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) maps, similar to other mission planning systems used by tactical aircrew, e.g., TAMPS. PDMS will also provide mission planning functionality to better enable Pioneer operators to plan the UAV flights using this database. Efforts will be made to design menus and displays similar to t hose used by other mission planning systems to simplify cross-training of fleet-experienced aviators. System development is ongoing, but may be affected by the problems with Version 11.0 software.

Modular Integrated Avionics Group (MIAG)

MIAG is a new avionics package designed to replace the Pioneer's central processing assembly and several other components. Program objectives included reducing avionics weight and cost, and maintenance requirements, which will improve UAV navigation, altitude reporting and payload targeting. MIAG will incorporate several new sensors, including an inertial measurement unit (IMU), magnetometer and C/A-code (commercial quality) GPS receiver, which will be upgradable to P-code (military quality) capability. Although MIAG successfully completed its first flight test phase, subsequent ground-test failures occurred, which could have caused the loss of the vehicle had they occurred in flight. These problems and other programmatic issues have delayed MIAG testing.

Modified C-Band Antenna

Flight testing was completed of a modified C-band antenna designed to replace the previous antenna, which had a history of reliability and maintainability problems. The Pioneer's C-band antenna transmits the down-link channel from the air vehicle and receives the primary up-link control signals. Four hours of flight testing determined that the new antenna performed as well as the old one while still providing improved reliability and maintainability.

Tactical Dropsonde

The feasibility program to install a remote-controlled pyrotechnic dispensing system aboard the Pioneer UAV was successfully completed in October 1998. The dispenser system was designed to deploy non-lethal payloads and parachute-retarded tactical dropsondes from a UAV to measure atmospheric phenomenon and relay data to a remote ground station. Non-lethal and tactical dropsonde mass-model separation characteristics and clearance from the test Pioneer were found to be satisfactory. Significant deficiencies were discovered during evaluation of the prototype system, including multiple electrical anomalies attributed to poor workmanship, a very limited range of the RF command link, and failure of the tactical dropsonde payloads to function properly when released. The tests did demonstrate that the concept for a compatible and independent remote control dispensing system is feasible with the Pioneer system.  Integration of a similar non-lethal expendables system on the Marine Corps Dragon Drone is underway, and flight testing was conducted in spring 1999.

Desert Shield/Storm Anecdote

The surrender of Iraqi troops to an unmanned aerial vehicle did actually happen.  All of the UAV units at various times had individuals or groups attempt to signal the Pioneer , possibly to indicate willingness to surrender.  However, the most famous incident occurred when USS Missouri (BB 63), using her Pioneer  to spot 16 inch gunfire, devastated the defenses of Faylaka Island off the coast near Kuwait City.  Shortly thereafter, while still over the horizon and invisible to the defenders, the USS Wisconsin (BB 64) sent her Pioneer  over the island at low altitude.  When the UAV came over the island, the defenders heard the obnoxious sound of the two-cycle engine since the air vehicle was intentionally flown low to let the Iraqis know that they were being targeted.  Recognizing that with the "vulture" overhead, there would soon be more of those 2,000-pound naval gunfire rounds landing on their positions with the same accuracy, the Iraqis made the right choice and, using handkerchiefs, undershirts, and bedsheets, they signaled their desire to surrender.  Imagine the consternation of the Pioneer  aircrew who called the commanding officer of Wisconsin and asked plaintively, "Sir, they want to surrender, what should I do with them?"

The Navy has deployed Pioneer  on four battleships and five amphibious LPD ships supporting worldwide operations in Africa, Northern Europe, the North Atlantic, the Western Pacific, Korea, the Mediterranean, and contingency operations in the Arabian Gulf.  The Marine Corps has successfully integrated Pioneer  support with Weapons and Tactics exercises (WTIs), Kernel Blitz exercises, and US Customs Service operations supporting drug interdiction missions.

The Navy modified the fifth ship, USS Ponce to support Pioneer  operations . In 1998, Pioneer  accumulated more than 300 at-sea flight hours and was continuously deployed with cruises on USS Shreveport; USS Denver; USS Austin; and USS Cleveland.  Key recent events include 15 Air Vehicle buy; Modular Integrated Avionics Group integration; and Tactical Control System integration.  These efforts will ensure the viability of Pioneer  until its replacement is fielded early in the next decade.

WEIGHT Empty                             276 lb
Fuel Capacity                 65 lb
Sensor Payload (max)    75 lb
Max Takeoff Wt              416 lb (
DIMENSIONS Wing Span                      17 ft 1 in
Fuselage Length              9 ft 7 in
Fuselage Width                1 ft 4 in
Wheel Base                      5 ft 6 in
Propeller Diameter           2 ft 5 in
Length                             13 ft 8 in
Wing Area                        30.1 sq ft
PROPULSION Pusher-propeller driven two-stroke,  twin-cylinder, rear-mounted engine
Max Power       29 hp
PERFORMANCE Fuel capacity                      12.9 gallons  of 100 octane AVGAS
Radius                             114 mi (100 nm)
Endurance                          5 hrs

Altitude                           15,000 ft
Max Endurance                      59.0 mph  (65 kts)
Loiter Speed                       59.0 mph  (65 kts)
Cruise Speed                       74.5 mph ( 85 kts)
Maximum Speed                     109.4 mph (110 kts)
Radius of Action
     nominal                          99.4 mi ( 87 nm)
     maximum                         114.0 mi (101 nm)

ELECTRONICS Power Supply                   28 Vdc
Battery Life                       20 Min Flight Time
SENSORS Optics                             Visible Light/IR Miscellaneous
Sensor Imagery               C-Band
Command and Control     C-Band/UHF
Transponder                     Mode III IFF
Navigation                         DR/GPS/Ground Track
Data Link                          C-Band and UHF Tadiran - MKD-200
                                           - MKD-400 Versatron - DS-12
PROTECTION Lightning Protection System    Yes
Releasable Imagery                 Yes


Pioneer's operational history includes Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm. U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and USMC commanders utilized six operational units and flew over 300 combat missions. During these missions, the Pioneer supported combat operations and provided the battlefield commander critical intelligence.

USN assets were particularly successful in target selection, spotting naval gunfire and battle damage assessment (BDA) while the USS Iowa's 16-inch guns destroyed enemy targets and softened defenses along the Kuwaiti coastline. The USMC successfully used Pioneer to direct air strikes and provide near real-time reconnaissance for special operations. The U.S. Army had great success with BDA, area searches, route reconnaissance and target location.

Between 1985 and 1994, Pioneer units logged over 10,000 flight hours. The USN has deployed Pioneer on four battleships and two amphibious LPD ships supporting worldwide operations in Africa, Northern Europe, the North Atlantic, the Western Pacific, Korea, the Mediterranean and contingency operation s in the Persian Gulf.

The USMC has successfully integrated Pioneer support with weapons and tactics exercises (WTIs), Kernel Blitz exercises and U.S. Customs Service operations supporting drug interdiction missions. The U.S. Army has utilized Pioneer in support of exercises at the National Training Center, as well as other training exercises.

Sources:  usni.periscope.com Info current Oct 1, 2000