WHITING FIELD, Fla. (NNS) -- Pioneer, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platform that has served the fleet for more than 20 years, flew its last operational training flight Oct. 25 at Naval Air Station Whiting Field's outlying field Choctaw in Navarre, Fla.
Local Navy and Marine Corps commanding officers and former UAV operators from as far away as California attended the flight, which signified the end of an era for many.
Yet the final voyage also marked the dawn of a new age as the Pioneer is phased out and UAV operations are transitioned to the Shadow 200 unmanned aerial system (UAS). The conversion accompanies the disestablishment of Training Air Wing 6 UAV Det. (UAV DET), the unit responsible for UAV operator training, with the Shadow UAS training to be overseen by the Army Training and Doctrine Command in Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
Pioneer has had unprecedented success in supporting combat operations through unmanned reconnaissance, battle damage assessment, and intelligence gathering. While it was originally slated to be an interim, or temporary UAV, Pioneer has flown more than 50,000 flight hours, of which 23,000 hours were flown in the Middle East in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).
UAV DET officer in charge, Maj. Casey T. Renfrew, testified to the success of Pioneer and expressed confidence in the future of UAV operations with Shadow.
"Pioneer is an excellent weapon system that has done a great job for the Marines and saved many lives during OIF. While it is somewhat of a sad day to see Pioneer fly for the last time, transitioning to Shadow is a smart thing to do from a logistical and technological standpoint," said Renfrew.
UAV DET had been responsible for training Navy and Marine Corps enlisted personnel as internal and external Pioneer operators and officers as mission commanders since May 2004. The unit regularly conducted up to four sorties daily and trained 60 Marines and Sailors each year. All Marine enlisted operators from UAV DET have since deployed to Iraq in support of OIF.
Renfrew holds the certainty that UAV operations will always be vital to the success of the mission.
"The ground element is always asking for UAV coverage, and before that has come from Pioneer - now, Shadow will take on that responsibility."
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