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June 19. 2012 10:50PM

Military drones now used in combat were tested atop state's highest peak



MOUNT WASHINGTON - Mount Washington, home to some of the world's most challenging weather, may be the perfect site to test military drones.

In the spring and summer of 2010, U.S. Special Operation Forces used the Northeast's highest peak to gain experience in using hand-held unmanned aircraft systems, according to Army Lt. Jim Gregory at the Pentagon's public affairs office.

According to a report by Dyke Weatherington, deputy director of the unmanned warfare section of the Department of Defense, Raven and Wasp drones were tested. The mountain was listed as a drone site in two Department of Defense presentations, one in 2010 and one in 2011.

According to the offices of members of the state's delegation to Congress, the mountain isn't scheduled for further testing.

“Based on our conversations with (the Department of Defense), this was part of routine training and testing that occurred at multiple sites around the country. These hand-held unmanned aerial vehicles aren't there now and we have not been informed of any future plans for training at Mount Washington,” said Jeff Grappone, communications director for U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.

“It is our understanding this was part of routine training and testing of unmanned aerial vehicles done by the military. We are unaware of future testing plans in the White Mountains,” said Stephanie DuBois, communications director for U.S. Rep. Charles F. Bass, R-N.H.

The Wasp has a wingspan of a little over two feet and weighs just under a pound. It's used for reconnaissance and surveillance day or night in low altitudes, according to the U.S. Air Force's fact sheet.

The Raven weighs 4.2 pounds and has a wing span of 4.5 feet. Its primary function is also reconnaissance and surveillance, with an operational altitude of 100 to 500 feet above ground level.

Gregory said there is no permanent siting of the drones in the area, and said that Special Forces have not come back to the mountain since 2010.

A prime reason the area was chosen was the lack of air traffic, he said.

Gregory said he has not been to Mount Washington, but “if the mountain has big rocks and desolate and harsh conditions,” then it simulates the conditions in Afghanistan.

Mount Washington is the only location in New England where drones were listed as being based.

Ken Rancourt, director of summit operations at the Mount Washington Observatory, said Tuesday that he could understand why the mountain would be used for testing drones, as the conditions are good for assessing ice buildup on wings.

Rancourt said observatory staff members are presently studying low-level icing assessments in cold and alpine environments with Dr. James Koermer of Plymouth State University.

The project, funded through a NASA grant, involves the U.S. Army's Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory and the NASA Glenn and Langley Research Centers.

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Sara Young-Knox may be reached at syoungknox@newstote.com.


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