World’s first unmanned cargo aircraft being tested in Kansas

Crew members prepare to launch the CQ-10A SnowGoose, the first unmanned aerial vehicle of its kind, during testing Friday at the Smoky Hill Weapons Range outside Salina. The aircraft - which can deliver supplies and messages, among other uses - can be launched from the back of a trailer pulled by a truck or dropped from a plane.

? An unmanned aircraft the military uses for carrying cargo and dropping leaflets in war zones has earned the attention of the Kansas National Guard.

Designated the CQ-10A SnowGoose by its Canadian manufacturer, the unmanned aerial vehicle is undergoing several days of testing at the Smoky Hill Weapons Range outside Salina. Smoky Hill also is the home of the Guard’s Great Plains Joint Training Center.

“It’s ugly, but it’s very functional,” said Chuck Jarnot, a former Army helicopter pilot who is working as a consultant for Mist Mobility Integrated Systems Technology Inc. The Canadian firm has sold 40 of the aircraft to the U.S. military and they are being used in Iraq and Afghanistan. The SnowGoose is the world’s first unmanned cargo aircraft.

Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, Kansas adjutant general and Guard commander, invited MMIST to bring the SnowGoose to Kansas and use the Smoky Hill air space for further development and testing. It also let Guard leaders consider how it could be integrated into a variety of military uses.

“We see a lot of potential for it in Homeland Security,” said Lt. Col. J.J. Jordan, Great Plains training officer.

The SnowGoose can be used to carry communications equipment over disaster areas, and speakers can be attached and used to broadcast messages to areas without communications, Jordan said. It also can be used to re-establish cell phone networks in a devastated area.

The aircraft can transport up to 600 pounds of cargo and stay in the air for about 20 hours. Its cargo boxes are like a “chest of drawers,” Jarnot said. The cargo can be dropped from the air with a parachute or delivered after the aircraft lands.

The SnowGoose has been used to resupply small Special Forces teams in remote areas. Using it for such drops is safer for the soldiers, and it removes the risk of flying in a helicopter.

“It’s hazardous to the helicopter crew,” said Jarnot, who used to fly Black Hawk helicopters. “A more discrete milk truck or FedEx truck, if you will, in the neighborhood is far more effective at delivering these types of payloads. It’s quiet and it can fly at night.”

The SnowGoose is deployed with the aid of an attached parachute and a propeller engine. It can launch off the back of a trailer or Humvee truck and can be dropped from planes. A crewman using a control box and a joystick can guide the aircraft. It also can fly autonomously using a digital mapping system.

“The ‘black box’ with the computer software measures wind speed and direction and tells the plane when to make drops,” Jarnot said. “It is the real jewel on this aircraft; all other components are off-the-shelf components.”

The SnowGoose is usually sold in pairs for about $800,000, which includes supporting equipment, Jarnot said.

The Kansas Guard has not purchased a SnowGoose but is interested in that possibility, said Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for Bunting’s office. In an emergency, the Guard might be able to lease one.