Alumni Spotlight: Leland C Shanle

Leland C Shanle is a graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Shanle is a pilot, award winning author, and military/aviation technical adviser for the movie industry. His consulting projects include Pearl Harbor, Behind Enemy Lines, xXx, The Day After Tomorrow and Stealth. His production company–Broken Wing Productions–has worked on several aviation-based movies and series including the Discovery Curiosity Series; Plane Crash.

Shanle is the author of three books; Project Seven Alpha, Vengeance at Midway and Guadalcanal, and ENDGAME in the Pacific–with the fourth slated for release in 2014. He has also written for Aerospace Testing International Magazine and is a Contributing Editor to Airways Magazine. Shanle has adapted his book, Project 7 Alpha as a screenplay for a major motion picture studio.

Shanle’s lifelong interest in Aviation is a family legacy. His Grandfather was in the airline industry in the 1920s and two uncles (Bob USAF, Larry USN) were combat military aviators. Shanle flew naval aircraft in 10 squadrons; including the F-4 Phantom II, EA-6B Prowler and TA-4 Skyhawk. Attached to CAG 5, 11 and 1 cruising on the USS Midway, America and Lincoln; Leland flew 80 missions over the war torn skies of Bosnia, Somalia, and Iraq.

He got into the flight test world when transferred to VX-30, Naval Weapons Test Center Point Mugu. He flew as a Project Officer on various test programs and was the Squadron Operations Officer. Shanle also attended the Project Officer/Engineers and the Out of Control Flight courses at National Test Pilot School. He was inducted as a Full Member in the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP) in 1998.

Closing out his Naval Aviation career with 600 carrier landings (200 night) on 11 different carriers; he continues his Aviation career as a Boeing 777 pilot with American Airlines.

Can you please discuss your experience working with UAVs?

I was attached to VX-30 and was the head of the QF-4 program. I had the unique perspective of actually riding in drones. Yes; I was a drone pilot…or Spam, as we called it. We would have to test the system, a UHF data link system, fairly archaic technology by today’s standards; by flying the pattern and doing touch and goes on San Nicholas Island off the coast of LA. Being in an F-4 Phantom while someone flew it from 75 miles away could be quite a ride. The runway on San Nic was on a 500 foot cliff; more than once I looked up to see it before crying uncle and taking control. We also had to test new software loads for controls/self protect modes; which also was quite a ride at times: stalls, straight up departures from controlled flight, etc. Being a UCC controller was a very perishable skill; it is the only thing I’ve done in my career as hard or harder than a night carrier landing. We used what looked like a simulator with a 5X5 TV screen; we landed on San Nic with just that little picture. At the time San Nic was a 5,000 foot runway due to construction, so we dropped the hook and took the wire like on the ship.

The drone was controlled from Naval Test Center Point Mugu with a range of 300 miles. It was an all aspect, fully functional aerial target. We could launch weapons or other drones and dog fight from the NOLO (No On-board Live Operator) QF-4. Our mission was to test new weapons systems and provide Fleet readiness. We normally used telemetry heads instead of war heads to save the assets.

We also launched and remotely or pre-programmed controlled other drones pictured here:

AS 16 launch

A QF-4N launching an MA-31. The MA-31 was a converted Soviet AS-17 Krypton missile. After failing to duplicate the performance of the Soviet system, when the Wall came down we bought a few.

aqm 37

An AQM-37 Super Sonic drone. We would launch the AQM-37 from a QF-4 Phantom at 1.5 Mach and 50,000 feet and then turn 90 degrees out and run like hell. Because the Fleet ships would then start shooting Surface to Air Missiles at it (had an old bud shot down by a CIWS once, he didn’t like it much).

c 130 with drones

A BQM-74 Chukar on a LC-130 wing station with another LC-130 in background. With this drone system we could launch raids against the Fleet.

NOLO F 4

QF-4N NOLO; (look close no pilot) over San Nic Island.

DSC00594

QB-727 and a chase C-337.

My most recent experience was as the CEO of Broken Wing LLC and droning a Boeing-727 for the Discovery Channel Documentary on aircraft survivability. We put together the old Point Mugu Team for that.

In your opinion, what do you think the future of UAVs will be in the United States?

So where is the Drone Industry going? There is one little problem with drones…they crash, a lot. Broken Wing is working on a project that shows some of the vulnerabilities of mixing manned/un-manned flight. Putting aside loose cannons who are flying drones illegally there is still massive vulnerabilities. Companies that are jumping into delivering products via drones will have a serious decision to ponder when the law suits start flying. Imagine a drone with a pizza and 6 pack dropping over LA like a stone; or one that has gone rogue getting sucked up an intake of an airliner on short final. Real threats.

That having been said; in low density or military applications I think the future is bright for UAVs. They will continue to be in great demand for border protection, observation for police/FBI applications and as a Strike/INTEL platform for all of the military services. From hand held airborne cameras for the Infantry to carrier launched Strike aircraft they will continue to multiply. The up side of unmanned flight in those arenas cannot be overstated.

Now for the 500 pound gorilla in the room: passenger aircraft applications. Personally, I would never get in one. From my perspective, having been one of the few people on earth to have actually ridden in one, no way! In the QF-4 I could take control when things got bad. Has your computer and/or IPhone ever just frozen up or done things you didn’t want it to? You see my point. Redundant systems? Google QF-72 (Qantas Flight 72) a bad system locked out two good systems and almost killed everyone on board.

Practically? Hugely expensive, drones have a very long tech-tail. Operationally? It would reduce the air traffic like a bad weather day. Airports like San Diego, Washington DC and LaGuardia could not be used due to the visual requirements on a normal day. Pilots make the air traffic flow in spite of how over loaded the system is. And on windy days? Simply they would have to shut down the airport. Even the most modern auto-land systems have wind restrictions that are half what the aircraft is capable of landing in (with a pilot).

In summary: imagine a QB-777 dropping on downtown USA some night? The company operating it would be out of business and Congress would out-law the systems immediately. Risk vs. Reward.

For more discussion about the developing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry, tune-in online at 7 p.m. on Sept. 18 for the inaugural Lift, Off the Page roundtable event, featuring Embry-Riddle faculty experts and alumni working in the UAS field. Register to attend: http://alumni.erau.edu/LiftEvent. And, read the fall edition of Lift http://alumni.erau.edu/lift

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