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AAI RQ-2A Pioneer — first UAV to accept a military surrender

20 April 2012

AAI RQ-2A Pioneer — first UAV to accept a military surrender

About as long as a car with a unit cost of $850,000 the Pioneer is a remarkable UAV design of the 1980s. Slower and more vulnerable by today’s standards the Pioneer is built from a mix of modern and natural materials and the 26 hp (19.4kW) engine carried aloft a 100 pound (45.5kg) payload — either optical sensors or chemical sensors. The nose wheel does not caster so Pioneers were launched by expendable rocket from a rail, or catapult, with landing typically into a net or with the aid of an arrestor cable on a runway.

The U.S. Navy originate the RQ-2A Pioneer program but the vehicles soon became operational with the U.S. Marine Corps as well as the U.S. Army. This Pioneer — No. 159 — is historic. It  is the UAV to which Iraqi military personnel announced their surrender on Faylaka Island during the first Gulf War — history’s first instance of a military surrender to a robot. The aircraft was being used for damage assessment at the time after a battleship gunnery mission.

A concise and thorough assessment of the Pioneer system, its history as well as the UAV history which led to it can be viewed on this fact sheet from the National Air & Space Museum on the National Mall website. The photos, below, of RQ-2A Pioneer No. 159 were taken in Gallery 104 of the National Air & Space Museum on the National Mall — more posts about the gallery can be seen by pasting “Gallery 104” into the search window, then selecting ENTER.

AAI RQ-2A Pioneer No. 159 in Gallery 104 of the National Air & Space Museum on the National Mall, note the small white expendable solid rocket booster motor between the main gear — photo by Joseph May

Note the Pioneer's pusher engine, fixed tricycle gear and gimballing optical turret — photo by Joseph May

The nose wheel was plastic and non castering, unable to steer the aircraft while on the ground — photo by Joseph May

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