News Dec 30, 2015 08:36 PM EST

The US Army retires its first ever drone

By Staff Writer

The U.S. Army has retired its first drone, the Hunter Unmanned Aircraft System, after 20 years of aerial service. The Army's oldest drone had its final flight at Fort Hood Wednesday, as part of a ceremony that marked transitions for both aircraft and its operators.

The Hunter UAS will now see use only through government-owned contractor support units. The Army replaces its first drone with the General Atomics Grey Eagle Unmanned Aircraft System that boasts better sensors and more advanced systems.

The U.S. Army officials said that the Hunter flew more flight hours in the conflict than any other reconnaissance aircraft. According to Chron, the Hunter Unmanned Aircraft System was initially fielded in 1995 to support Army field training in Louisiana and California.

The drone was sent to support NATO warfighting and peacekeeping operations in the Balkans and around Kosovo between 1999 and 2000. The Hunter UAS was even used on the Second Gulf War in 2003 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

According to Popular Science, the Hunter UAS was designed by Israel Aircraft Industries and maintained in the U.S. by Northrop Grumman. The drone was known as RQ-5 when unarmed and MQ-5B when equipped with small Viper Strike guided bombs.

The Hunter UAS could fly for  between 12 and 18 hours at a time with the altitude ceiling up to 15,000 feet. The drone fit short range operations, the Army could send one on a scouting mission 80 miles away.

The Hunter UAS was a simple drone with a puller propeller in the front and a pusher propeller in the back. The drone had an effective range of 160 miles as it could relay controls to a second Hunter flying further ahead.

According to Fort Hood Sentinel, the Hunter was equipped with imagery system that allowed data processing in a matter of seconds. The system provided a virtual real-time information about battlefield conditions.

It also enabled commanders to detect, identify and track hostile activity and targets. The drone also enhanced the commander's ability to locate and identify friendly forces to avoid unnecessary loss of life and to locate enemy targets.

The U.S. Army's 15th Military Intelligence Battalion will receive the Gray Eagle UAS next year to replace the Hunter UAS. The Grey Eagle can fly up to 25 hours with the speeds up to 167 knots. It can reach altitudes up to 29,000 feet.

The Grey Eagle UAS has an improved EO/IR systems and Synthetic Aperture Radar. The drone is able to conduct wide area Intelligence Survellance and Reconnaissance, convoy protection, Improvised Explosive Device detection and defeat, close air support, communications relay and weapons delivery missions.

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