UAV RQ-7 Shadow

UAV RQ-7 Shadow

The AAI RQ-7 Shadow is an American unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) used by the United States ArmyAustralian Army, Swedish Army, and Italian Army for reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition and battle damage assessment. Launched from a trailer-mounted pneumatic catapult, it is recovered with the aid of arresting gear similar to jets on an aircraft carrier. Its gimbal-mounted, digitally stabilized, liquid nitrogen-cooled electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) camera relays video in real time via a C-band line-of-sight data link to the ground control station (GCS).

The US Army’s 2nd Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, trains soldiers, Marines, and civilians in the operation and maintenance of the Shadow UAS. The Shadow is operated in the U.S. Army at brigade-level.


The RQ-7 Shadow is the result of a continued US Army search for an effective battlefield UAS after the cancellation of the Alliant RQ-6 Outrider aircraft. AAI Corporation followed up their RQ-2 Pioneer with the Shadow 200, a similar, more refined UAS. In late 1999, the army selected the Shadow 200 to fill the tactical UAS requirement, redesignating it the RQ-7. Army requirements specified a UAS that used an aviation gasoline engine, could carry an electro-optic/infrared imaging sensor turret, and had a minimum range of 31 miles (50 kilometers) with four-hour, on-station endurance. The Shadow 200 offered at least twice that range. The specifications also dictated that UAS would be able to land in an athletic field.


The RQ-7 Shadow 200 unmanned aircraft system is of a high-wing, constant chord pusher configuration with a twin-tailboom empennage and an inverted v-tail. The aircraft is powered by a 38 bhp (28 kW) AR741-1101 Wankel engine designed and manufactured by UAV Engines Ltd in the United Kingdom. Onboard electrical systems are powered by a GEC/Plessey 28 volt, direct current, 2 kW generator.] Currently, the primary load of the aircraft is the Israeli Aircraft Industries POP300 Plug-in Optical Payload which consists of a forward-looking infrared camera, a daytime TV camera with a selectable near-infrared filter and a laser pointer. The aircraft has fixed tricycle landing gear. Takeoffs are assisted by a trailer-mounted pneumatic launcher which can accelerate the 170 kg (375 pound) aircraft to 70 knots (130 km/h) in 40 feet (12 m). Landings are guided by a Tactical Automatic Landing System, developed by the Sierra Nevada Corporation, which consists of a ground-based micro-millimeter wavelength radar and a transponder carried on the aircraft. Once on the ground, a tailhook mounted on the aircraft catches an arresting wire connected to two disk brake drums which can stop the aircraft in less than 170 feet (52 m).

The aircraft is part of a larger system which currently uses the M1152-series of Humvees for ground transport of all ground and air equipment. A Shadow 200 system consists of four aircraft, three of which are transported in the Air Vehicle Transporter (AVT). The fourth is transported in a specially designed storage container to be used as a spare. The AVT also tows the launcher. The AVT Support Vehicle and trailer contain extra equipment to launch and recover the aircraft, such as the Tactical Automatic Landing System. Maintenance equipment for the aircraft is stored in the Maintenance Section Multifunctional (MSM) vehicle and trailer as well as the M1165 MSM Support Vehicle and its associated trailer.

Two Humvee-mounted Ground Control Stations (GCS), also part of the Shadow 200 system, control the aircraft in flight. Each station has an associated Ground Data Terminal (GDT), which takes commands generated by the GCS and modulates them into radio waves received by the aircraft in flight. The GDT receives video imagery from the payload, as well as telemetry from the aircraft, and sends this information to the GCS. A trailer, towed by the M1165 GCS support vehicle, carries the GDT and houses a 10 kW Tactical Quiet Generator to provide power for its associated GCS. The Shadow 200 system also includes a Portable Ground Control Station (PGCS) and Portable Ground Data Terminal (PGDT), which are stripped-down versions of the GCS and GDT designed as a backup to the two GCSs.

A fielded Shadow 200 system requires 22 soldiers to operate it. Army modelling indicates that crew workload is highest at takeoff, and second-highest at landing.

The Shadow is restricted from operating in bad weather conditions, not being meant to fly through rain and with sensors that cannot see through clouds.


RQ-7A Shadow

The RQ-7A was the initial version of the Shadow 200 UAS developed by AAI. The first low-rate initial-production systems were delivered to the US Army in 2002 with the first full-scale production systems being delivered in September 2003. The RQ-7A was 11 ft 2 in (3.40 m) long and had a wingspan of 12 ft 9 in (3.89 m) with a 327 lb (148 kg) max takeoff weight. The aircraft’s endurance ranged between 4 and 5.5 hours depending on mission. The “A” model aircraft also had the AR741-1100 engine which could use either 87 octane automotive gasoline or 100LL aviation fuel. The “A” model also featured IAI’s POP200 payload.

RQ-7B Shadow

Production of Shadow aircraft shifted to a generally improved RQ-7B variant in the summer of 2004. The RQ-7B features new wings increased in length to 14 ft (4.3 m). The new wings are not only more aerodynamically efficient, they are “wet” to increase fuel storage up to 44 liters for an endurance of up to 6 hours. The payload capability has been increased to 45 kilograms (99 pounds). After reports from Iraq that engines were failing, in 2005, the Army’s UAV project manager called for the use of 100LL, an aviation fuel, rather than the conventional 87 octane mogas. Avionics systems have been generally improved, and the new wing is designed to accommodate a communications relay package, which allows the aircraft to act as a relay station. This allows commanders or even the aircraft operators themselves to communicate via radio to the troops on ground in locations that would otherwise be “dead” to radio traffic.

The Shadow can operate up to 125 km (78 mi) from its brigade tactical operations center, and recognize tactical vehicles up to 8,000 ft (2,400 m) above the ground at more than 3.5 km (2.2 mi) slant range.

Other incremental improvements to the system include replacing the AR741-1100 engine with the AR741-1101 which increases reliability through the use of dual spark plugs as well as limiting the fuel to 100LL. Also, the older POP200 payload was replaced with the newer POP300 system.[7] In February 2010, AAI began a fleet update program to improve the Shadow system. The improvements include installing the wiring harnesses and software updates for IAI’s POP300D payload which includes a designator for guiding laser-guided bombs. Other improvements in the program will include an electronic fuel injection engine and fuel system to replace the AR741-1101’s carburetted engine. The most visible improvement to the system will be a wider wing of 20 feet (6.1 m) in span which is designed to increase fuel capacity and allow for mission endurance of almost 9 hours. The new wings will also include hardpoints for external munitions.

A joint Army-Marine program is testing IED jamming on a Shadow at MCAS Yuma. Another joint effort is to view a 4 km × 4 km (2.5 mi × 2.5 mi) ground area from 3,650 m (12,000 feet).

The Army is now proposing the upgraded Shadow 152A, which includes Soldier Radio Waveform software, which allows both the command post and their troops to see the images that the UAV is projecting, as long as they are on the same frequency. It also increases the distance and area of communication.

Preliminary TCDL testing conducted at Dugway Proving Ground was a success. This led to an estimated fielding date of May 2010 for TCDL. In March 2015, the first Shadow unit was equipped with the upgraded RQ-7BV2 Shadow version. New capabilities for the BV2 include the TCDL, encryption of video and control data-links, software that allows interoperability between other UAS platforms, integration of a common control station and control terminal for all Army UAS platforms, an electronic fuel-injection engine, and increased endurance to nine hours through a lengthened wingspan of 20 ft (6.1 m), with weight increased to 204 kg (450 lb). Shadow systems are being upgraded at a rate of 2-3 per month, with all Army Shadows planned to become BV2s by 2019.

Armed Shadow

On 19 April 2010 the Army issued a “solicitation for sources sought” from defense contractors for a munition for the Shadow system with a deadline for proposals due no later than 10 May 2010. Although no specific munition has been chosen yet, some possible munitions include the Raytheon Pyros bomb, the General Dynamics 81 mm 4.5 kg (10-pound) air-dropped guided mortar, as well as the QuickMEDS system for delivering medical supplies to remote and stranded troops. The Army subsequently slowed work, and the Marine Corps then took the lead on arming the RQ-7 Shadow. Raytheon has conducted successful flight tests with the Small Tactical Munition, and Lockheed Martin has tested the Shadow Hawk glide weapon from an RQ-7. On 1 November 2012, General Dynamics successfully demonstrated their guided 81 mm Air Dropped Mortar, with three launches at 7,000 ft hitting within seven meters of the target grid.

As of August 2011, the Marine Corps has received official clearance to experiment with armed RQ-7s, and requires AAI to select a precision munition ready for deployment. AAI was awarded $10 million for this in December 2011, and claims a weapon has already been fielded by the Shadow. In 2014, Textron launched the Fury precision weapon from a Shadow 200.

By May 2015, the Marine Corps had run out of funding for weaponizing the RQ-7, and the Army had shown little interest in continuing the effort. The Army’s stance is that the Shadow’s primary capability is persistent surveillance, while there are many other ways to drop bombs on targets and adding that to the Shadow would add weight and decrease endurance.


A test version called STTB flew in summer 2011. AAI is developing a bigger version called M2 with a blended wing to include a 3-cylinder 60 hp Lycoming heavy fuel engine, and began flight testing in August 2012. The Shadow M2 has a conformal blended body that reduces drag, wingspan increased to 25 ft (7.6 m), and is 120 lb (54 kg) heavier. It can fly for 16 hours at altitudes up to 18,000–20,000 ft (5,500–6,100 m); its endurance and service ceiling are comparable to Group 4 UASs like the MQ-1 Predator, so the company is pitching the M2 as a budget-conscious alternative to larger unmanned aircraft. It has a greater payload to carry synthetic aperture radar (SAR), wide-area surveillance, navigation, signals intelligence, and electronic warfare packages. It also has the ability to be controlled beyond line-of-sight through a SATCOM link. Although the M2 uses the same internal components as the RQ-7B Shadow 200 and is compatible with existing support equipment and ground infrastructure, its greater weight necessitates changes to the existing launcher. The Shadow M2 uses 80-85 percent of the components of the Shadow V2, while allowing for an additional 100 lb (45 kg) of capability with total airframe weight increased to 720 lb (330 kg).

In June 2017, Textron introduced the Nightwarden TUAS as a production-ready model of the developmental Shadow M2, the change in name due to significant improvements and enhancements to the system such as greater flexibility and combat capability, SATCOM features, and enhanced command-and-control. The aircraft has a range of 1,100 km (680 mi), maximum speed of 90 knots (100 mph; 170 km/h), endurance of 15 hours, can fly at an altitude of 16,000 ft (4,900 m), and has a maximum takeoff weight of 750 lb (340 kg) with a dual-payload bay with a capacity of 130 lb (59 kg).

Shadow 600

AAI has also built a scaled-up Pioneer derivative known as the “Shadow 600”. It also resembles a Pioneer, except that the outer panels of the wings are distinctively swept back, and it has a stronger Wankel engine, the UAV EL 801, with 52 hp (39 kW). A number of Shadow 600s are in service in several nations, including Romania.

SR/C Shadow

AAI, in conjunction with Textron sister company Bell Helicopter, intends to modify two Shadows with a Carter rotor on top for vertical take-off and landing, eliminating the need for the recovery and pneumatic launcher systems, while increasing payload and endurance. As of August 2011, it is expected to fly in 2012. AAI also expected to use the SR/C technology for the Shadow Knight, a powered-rotor two-propeller surveillance aircraft for the US Navy MRMUAS program; however, the MRMUAS program was cancelled in 2012.


Crew 0
11 ft 2 in (3.41 m)
Wigspan 14 ft 0 in (3.87 m)
Height 3 ft 4 in (1.0 m)
Empty weight 186 lb (77 kg)
Maximum weight 375 lb (170 kg)
Powerplant 1 × Wankel UAV Engine 741 used only with Silkolene Synthetic Oil , 38 hp (28.5 kW)
Maximum speed 130 mph (200 km/h, 110 kn)
Cruising speed at sea level 81 mph (130 km/h, 70 kn)
Range 68 mi (109.5 km, 59 nmi)
Endurance 6 h/ 9 h Increased Endurance
Ceiling in service 15,000 ft (4,600 m) ELOS (Electronic Line Of Sight)


  • Australian Army – The Australian Government has bought 18 aircraft and has replaced ScanEagle, and began using them in Afghanistan in May 2012
  • Italian Army – In July 2010, the Italian army ordered four Shadow 200 systems with 16 airplanes.
  • Romanian Air Force: The Romanian Air Force has purchased 11 Shadow 600s, a larger, fuel injected Shadow variant.
  • Swedish Army – 8 aircraft (2 systems) were delivered early in 2011. These systems were then modified by SAAB to be more suited for Swedish use, named UAV03 Örnen.
  • United States
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