Ready for fleet

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps’ RQ-21A Blackjack Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) received the official green light for operation January 13, marking a major milestone for the program.

An RQ-21A Blackjack in flight during testing aboard USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19) in 2015. The Marines will deploy with the unmanned air system for its first shipboard deployment in summer 2016 (U.S. Navy photo)
An RQ-21A Blackjack in flight during testing aboard USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19) in 2015. The Marines will deploy with the unmanned air system for its first shipboard deployment in summer 2016 (U.S. Navy photo)

Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lieutenant General Jon Davis, announced the program has achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC), which confirms that the first Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron (VMU) squadron is sufficiently manned, trained and ready to deploy with the RQ-21A system.

«We are ‘go for launch,’» said Colonel Eldon Metzger, program manager for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office (PMA-263) whose team oversees the Blackjack program. «Achieving IOC designation means the fleet can now deploy using this critical piece of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) architecture to enhance mission success».

Last month, the first system from Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) lot 3 was delivered to VMU-2 and will be in direct support of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), based in Cherry Point, North Carolina. The Marines will make their first shipboard deployment with this system in the summer.

«The Blackjack team has endured many long hours seeing this program to fruition and I am very proud to lead such a dedicated team of professionals», Metzger said.

A Blackjack system is comprised of five air vehicles, two ground control systems, and launch and recovery support equipment. At eight feet/2.5 m long and with a wingspan of 16 feet/4.8 m, the air vehicle’s open-architecture configuration is designed to seamlessly integrate sensor payloads, with an endurance of 10-12 hours.

The expeditionary nature of the Blackjack, which does not require a runway for launch and recovery, makes it possible to deploy a multi-intelligence-capable UAS with minimal footprint from ships.

Standard Payloads: day/night, full-motion video; electro-optical/infrared cameras; mid-wave infrared imager; infrared marker; laser rangefinder; communications relay; Automatic Identification System receivers for shipping traffic data
Standard Payloads: day/night, full-motion video; electro-optical/infrared cameras; mid-wave infrared imager; infrared marker; laser rangefinder; communications relay; Automatic Identification System receivers for shipping traffic data

 

SPECIFICATIONS

DIMENSIONS
Length 8.2 feet/2.5 m
Wingspan 16 feet/4.8 m
WEIGHTS
Empty structure weight 81 lbs/36 kg
Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) 135 lbs/61 kg
Maximum payload weight 39 lbs/17 kg
PERFORMANCE
Endurance up to 16 hours
Ceiling >19,500 feet/5,944 m
Maximum horizontal speed 90+ knots/104 mph/167 km/h
Cruise speed 60 knots/69 mph/111 km/h
Engine 8 HP reciprocating engine with Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI); JP-5, JP-8
PAYLOAD INTEGRATION
Onboard power 350 W for payload
Onboard connectivity Ethernet (TCP/IP), data encryption
STANDARD PAYLOAD CONFIGURATION
Electro-optic imager
Mid-wave infrared imager
Laser rangefinder
IR marker
Communications relay and Automatic Identification System (AIS)
The RQ-21A completed its first shipboard flight in February 2013 from USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19)
The RQ-21A completed its first shipboard flight in February 2013 from USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19)

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