The AAI Corporation RQ-7 Shadow is an unarmed tactical reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicle currently in active service with the United States Army and Marine Corps. The system serves as a day-night, target acquisition, surveillance and battlefield assessment platform by commanders on the ground. Similar in design to AAI's previous UAV offering in the RQ-2 Pioneer, the RQ-7 Shadow has seen extensive service in the skies over Iraq and Afghanistan.
Design-wise, the Shadow features a straight monoplane high-wing fixed to the rear of the fuselage. The fuselage itself is smooth with straight faces and a fixed undercarriage consists of two main wheels and a nose wheel. Tubular tail booms extend from the trailing edge of each wing and straddle the rear-mounted, propeller-driven pusher engine. The tail section ends in a unique angle-up shape. The bread-and-butter of the system is its electro-optical/infrared real-time relay camera held underneath the fuselage. The camera is gimbal-mounted and digitally-stabilized.
Shadow UAV's do not have the capacity to operate on their own and as such are fielded with integral components that make up a complete Shadow system. A Shadow system will consist of four Shadow UAVs, a rail launch trailer, personnel vehicles and two ground stations. The Shadow is rail-launched and recovered on a runway via a tail hook. Preparation time to get a Shadow in the air can be as little as 1 hour.
The RQ-7A is just over 11 feet long with a wingspan of nearly 13 feet and a height of 3 feet. The system weighs in at roughly 165lbs empty and 328lbs with a maximum payload. Power is derived from a single UEL AR-741 rotary piston engine of 208cc generating 38 horsepower. The engine is set up in a "pusher" fashion at the extreme end of the fuselage nacelle. A ceiling of up to 14,000 feet is reported with an endurance time of some 5 hours.
The RQ-7B variant is an improvement over the original production A models in almost every way. The wings have been redesigned with a larger surface and new airfoil along with a new tail unit. Fuel capacity has been increased which has effectively increased the Shadow's operational endurance limit to 7 hours (up from 5 hours in initial production models). Payload options have been expanded and the data link system has been upgraded to the Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL). Production of the RQ-7B began in the summer of 2004.
Besides supplying ground commanders with a "bird's eye view" of the battlefield in real-time, the Shadow is capable of carrying and dropping valuable medical supplies to ground troops via "Quick-MEDS (Medical Emergency Delivery System). Two such 20lb canisters can be delivered underwing. A "signals interception" package is also in development.
There have been over 550 Shadow UAVs built and operators now include the United States (Army, Navy and Marines), Australia, Italy, Pakistan, Romania, and Sweden. The U.S. Army along operates over 450 units.
RQ-7 derives its name from the Department of Defense designation system for UAV's. The "R" stands for Reconnaissance while the "Q" designates it as an unmanned aircraft. The number "7" notes it as the seventh purposely developed unmanned aircraft in the series of unmanned aerial aircraft systems in service with the US military.