Posted: April 27, 2017 2:07 PM

NSWC Panama City Earns Unmanned Aircraft Systems Certification

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — A U.S. Navy aviation unit based at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC-PCD) received its unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) certification April 18 for research, development, test and evaluation missions, the center said in an April 27 release.

The aviation unit, the Dragon Masters, is a research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) unit comprising 26 Navy enlisted and officers that now is certified to fly these systems of less than 55 pounds for experimental purposes.

NSWC PCD Special Projects Officer, Navy Lt. Jeff Mandel, believes this safe for flight certification will pay huge dividends for NSWC PCD and the U.S. Navy as a whole by being able to test new systems that support mine warfare and littoral operations missions.

“The commercial sector is building and improving small UASs at breakneck speed which the U.S. Navy would be hard pressed to keep up with using traditional acquisition pipelines,” he said. “Now that we have our foot in the door, we can keep up with these new advances and rapidly bring new capabilities to our warfighters all over the world.”

The Dragon Masters unit collaborates and supports the mine warfare fleet that flies MH-53E and MH-60S helicopters for RDT&E missions. The certification is another way NSWC PCD is expanding the advantage between the U.S. and its adversaries.

Mandel said having the ability to utilize UAS capabilities presents both unique opportunities and threats that should be analyzed.

“There are several other NAVSEA commands wanting to utilize UAS capabilities, but none of them have an aviation entity attached to them like NSWC PCD does which puts them at a significant disadvantage to try and understand how to create an unmanned aviation program from scratch,” said Mandel.

NSWC PCD Fleet Liaison Officer in Charge, Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Dill, said the program was established to meet former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ direction and allow NSWC PCD to continue flying UASs for the development of various warfare systems, sensors and tech transition protocol.

NSWC PCD will qualify and designate the aviation detachment pilots as the initial cadre of Air Vehicle Operators (AVO) and Unmanned Aircraft Commanders. Soon after, an inaugural training class will qualify command civilians and non-aviation personnel for flight. On completion of the training and designation by the commanding officer, the graduated will become AVOs.

Dill said he expects RDT&E involving UASs to cultivate a significant following from other DoD agencies.

“We expect RDT&E involving UASs to grow, creating a dynamic developmental environment involving military and civilian personnel operating the systems to develop advanced capabilities for the fleet,” Dill said. “We will also be requesting additional flight clearances to operate an expanded inventory of small UAS.”

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