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Coast Guardsman Pioneers Unmanned Aerial Surveillance



LT Thomas Shuler is pioneering the Coast Guard's UAS (Unmanned Aerial Surveillance) program by earning the distinction of being our first operational Predator MQ-9 Pilot. LT Shuler is part of a small team of Coast Guard officers based at ATC Mobile, AL that is developing the Coast Guard's UAS training and standardization program.

LT Shuler attended UAS training at Grand Forks Air Force Base conducted by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency. The nine week training program culminated when Shuler completed his final qualification check flight on Wednesday, October 21, 2009 at the CBP Predator-B training facility at Fort Huachuca, Sierra Vista, AZ.

"It's an honor to be part of the hardworking team that will get the UAS program off to a start for the Coast Guard," said Shuler. "The training was excellent. CBP did an outstanding job and provided all the tools and assistance needed to make the training successful."

Three other team members are also undergoing UAS training, including use of the RQ-8 Fire Scout UAV helicopter. The team will be working with CBP in carrying out the Department of Homeland Security law enforcement and border patrol missions.

As a HU-25 Falcon jet pilot with six years of experience performing law enforcement missions out of Air Station Miami, LT Shuler found some differences operating an aircraft without being in the cockpit.

One of the most interesting experiences was during a simulated emergency exercise an Air Traffic Controller (ATC) asked LT Shuler how many souls were on board. "I didn't know what to say," Shuler said. "I finally said, ‘zero souls on board.'" "Say again," said the ATC. After a brief exchange, the ATC finally understood the situation.

"A common misperception is that this aircraft is like a small model airplane," said Shuler. "It is actually the size of a regular airplane, but packed with computer gear instead of passengers," Shuler said.The Coast Guard believes that UASs have the potential to serve as effective multi-mission surveillance platforms in the maritime environment, augmenting both cutter-based rotary wing aircraft and land-based fixed wing aircraft.

Looking forward, LT Shuler and the new UAS Coast Guard team will be working with CBP in carrying out its law enforcement mission along the nation's borders from ground control stations (GCS) at Fort Huachuca, AZ, Grand Forks, ND, and Cape Canaveral, FL.

However, Shuler noted that UAS aircraft can be operated from anywhere the mobile GCS is located. "I can fly a UAS aircraft on missions along the Mexican border from Grand Forks and operate another along the Canadian border from Cape Canaveral. The UAS allows great operational flexibility."

Bravo Zulu and Semper Paratus to LT Thomas Shuler for leading the way to another Coast Guardsman first and his commitment and dedication to the Coast Guard mission.