Air Force News

UAV 'pilot' receives air medal

Released: Dec 1, 1997

by Airman 1st Class Monica Munro
Air Warfare Center Public Affairs

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFNS) -- An 11th Reconnaissance Squadron unmanned aerial vehicle operator was recently awarded the Air Force Aerial Achievement Medal for safely landing a UAV after its engine seized 150 miles from the ground control station at Mostar Air Base, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Capt. Greg Harbin was able to remotely glide the unmanned aircraft for about 30 miles, avoiding populated areas and maneuvering the UAV to the airfield where it could be safely recovered. The landing was made more difficult because the nose camera, used as the primary pilot camera, iced over during the descent and the aircraft was being controlled by its satellite link, which causes a delay in aircraft control response time.

According to Harbin, the engine quit at about 18,000 feet, leaving about 20 minutes of battery power left to recover the aircraft.

"As I descended through an overcast deck, the nose camera iced over which meant that at sometime I'd have to turn the payload sensor back on and try to find the field. The aircraft has no instrumentation so I had to find the field visually."

With engine failure, impending link failure, and a limited visual picture, Harbin said the situation was tense.

"This emergency felt no different than any airplane, the same emotions were there," Harbin said. "If I would have made a mistake, I would have killed somebody."

The emergency landing occurred during a reconnaissance mission in the support of NATO forces participating in Operation Joint Guard.

"This award recognizes his flying skills and ability to keep his cool under pressure," said Col. Larry New, 15th Operations Group commander.

"He had to deal with a situation, circumstances, and events in which he had to improvise, relying on Air Force training and instincts to succeed.

"As for its (the award's) significance to the unit, we're writing the book as we go along," New said. "What Captain Harbin did is true to the entire operation. There are no books written about situations like these."

"The Predator provides real-time video to the battlefield commanders," Harbin said. "Initially, I didn't understand the UAV program but now I see it for what it is -- an exciting new career field that is not here to replace pilots, but to save lives." (Courtesy of Air Combat Command News Service)