MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, North Carolina — Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 launched into a new era with its RQ-21A Blackjack flight into Class D airspace, over Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, March 21.
Commonly only allowed to fly in restricted airspace, VMU-2 now has the expanded ability to integrate RQ-21A flight operations with manned aircraft over this air station.
Cherry Point’s Class D airspace is defined by a circle around the air station with a 5-mile radius, from the ground up to 2,500 feet above the air station. This is airspace that is constantly under the control of Cherry Point air traffic control, and is frequently busy with military air traffic, as well as contracted commercial flights landing and departing the air station.
“Unmanned aerial systems like the Blackjack are commonly flown from forward sites that sometimes restrict our integration with other air players and events,” explained 1st Lt. Orlando J. Benedict, an unmanned aerial systems officer with the squadron. “Having the RQ-21A at MCAS Cherry Point fosters connections with the rest of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing and allows for procedures that integrate manned and unmanned aviation to be solidified for the future.”
The Blackjack is designed to operate off a Marine Expeditionary Unit in support of ground forces deployed worldwide. UAS requirements have evolved and the Marine Corps has refined its concept of operations to incorporate rapidly emerging technologies in its unmanned systems.
The RQ-21A Blackjack can safeguard military bases and activities through a pattern of life identification and explosive device detection. It is equipped with an electro-optic/infrared payload that supports the real-time monitoring to provide indications and threat warnings, and its plug-and-play payloads enable multi-intelligence capability to support a broad range of operations.
“The Blackjack’s main purpose is to support aerial reconnaissance missions,” said Sgt. James E. Burch, a UAV operator with VMU-2. “With the new system, we will now be able to launch and land the UAV on a ship, where with other systems, more space would be required for recovery.”