133rd Security Forces Squadron Becomes First National Guard Unit to Certify Airmen on The Skydio X2D Drone

Sgt. Jorden Newbanks

CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. – The 133rd Security Forces Squadron (133rd SFS) out of St. Paul, Minnesota, completed initial training for the Skydio X2D Drone at Camp Ripley Training Center in Little Falls, Minnesota, in November 2023 and is the first National Guard unit to certify troops on the X2D Drone.

“The strategic plan for the Air Force going forward is to adopt new technology. The Security Forces have adopted drones as our current new technology that we’re trying to embark on,” said U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Brandon Trout, the 133rd Security Forces Squadron Drone Program Manager. “Our unit isn’t just law enforcement, and we do all different types of scenarios. With that being said, this drone completely changes every single thing that we do. Whether it’s domestic response, hurricane relief, infantry training, active shooters, all the way to the nuclear side of operations.”

The 133rd SFS adopted the X2D Drones in 2023 and selected eight enlisted Airmen to become the first National Guardsmen to certify on the drone. The team spent three days at Camp Ripley learning to fly and operate the drone and its new Artificial Intelligence features and camera settings.

“I think that when people think of drones, they think of cheap remote-controlled drones. That’s not true at all. These things are way more elaborate and complex than you could ever imagine,” said Trout. “This is a very expensive piece of equipment with a lot of technology. Not only with the AI but just the capabilities of how high it can fly, how far it can go, and how long it can last in the air. That’s what we’re trying to learn right now.”

Skydio is one of the leading U.S. drone manufacturers and developed the X2D Drone in 2023 as a top-of-the-line reconnaissance tool. According to the Skydio website and Skydio X2D specifications, the X2D drone has a flight range of up to ten kilometers and a flight time of 35 minutes. On top of being built to exceed the U.S. Army Short-Range Reconnaissance
requirements, the drone also supports new AI flight engines and powerful camera settings like thermal imagery.

“This is a game changer; it’s a force multiplier in itself,” said Trout. “To give a scenario, I can set up on a building and set waypoints on it, put it up in the sky, then I can get a complete 360 view of this building. If an individual comes out of the building, I can tag that individual, and then the drone will follow him. I don’t need to be on the ground chasing him. I can now get in my vehicle and follow him, and it will tell me exactly where he’s going. What this thing is doing is it’s adding the new AI technology into how our squadron operates.”

The Skydio X2D Drone has features like complete 360-degree obstacle avoidance, autonomous flight capabilities, 3D Scanning that can produce digital 3D models, cybersecurity protection, and 4K video and imagery capture with 16 times digital zoom. The drone can also operate on
multiple frequencies to overcome interference and bandwidth constraints.

“I’m a plumber on the civilian side. As a Project Manager site foreman, it gets a little dull. So when I come out here to do drone training, this is some new stuff for me,” said Trout. “Learning the functions and capabilities of the drone really excites me. This is going to make us more
successful on the battlefield. We’re up with the newest and greatest technology and plan on delivering in the future.”

The team needed airspace, open fields, and different terrain features to test the drone’s capabilities and traveled to Camp Ripley Training Center to find them.

“The reason that we continuously choose Camp Ripley is that Camp Ripley has a diverse landscape. This place is 53,000 acres, I believe. And out of those 53,000 acres, it offers everything you need,” said Trout. “Today, we wanted open fields, and that’s exactly what we got. I can fly it way out, and I can still see it. The benefit of Camp Ripley is that they always deliver. They give us the ability to pick and choose where we want to train, and they make it happen for us with any resources we need at our disposal.”

After the three days of initial training, the Airmen certified on the drone will head back to their unit and continue to train and pass on their knowledge to other Airmen and potentially other military branches in the future.

“This drone can do things that humans can’t physically do. So, we’re taking that strategic plan of integrating new technology in the Air Force, and we’re here today to implement it,” said Trout. “Learning is going to take a little bit of time, but we’ve selected the right group of people and
will tackle this. Hopefully, with everything we’re doing, we’ll be able to give this information to other units and spread it throughout the entire military so that everyone can have the same capabilities.”