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    New York Air Guard wing makes first remotely piloted aircraft flight from military and civilian shared airfield

    MQ-9 takes flight at Syracuse

    Photo By Master Sgt. Raymond Drumsta | An MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft operated by the New York Air National Guard's 174th...... read more read more



    Story by Eric Durr 

    New York National Guard

    SYRACUSE, N.Y. – A remotely piloted aircraft launched into airspace used by both military and civilian aircraft for the first time on Wednesday, Dec. 16, as an MQ-9 belonging to the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing took to the sky from the runway shared with Syracuse Hancock International Airport.

    Until now, the Air Force has operated remotely piloted MQ-1 and MQ-9 aircraft only from military airfields. The 174th has been flying MQ-9s used to train pilots and sensor operators from Wheeler Sack Army Airfield at Fort Drum, N.Y.

    “This is an awesome day for the 174th. It is an awesome day for the remotely piloted aircraft community and the Air Force,” said Col. Greg Semmel, the commander of the 174th Attack Wing.

    This change “re-emphasizes and re-establishes flight operations here in Syracuse,” Semmel said.

    Currently seven Air National Guard units fly either the MQ-9 or MQ-1 remotely piloted aircraft and four of those units, including the 174th Attack Wing, share runways with civilian airports. These other units are the 118th Airlift Wing in Nashville, Tennessee; the 119th Wing at Fargo, North Dakota; and the 147th Reconnaissance Wing in Houston, Texas.

    A fifth unit, the New York Air National Guard’s 107th Airlift Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, which shares a runway with Niagara Falls International Airport, is currently converting to an MQ-9 unit.
    Wednesday’s flight at Syracuse sets a precedent for other Air National Guard, and Air Force, remotely piloted aircraft operations, Semmel said.
    Wednesday’s first flight was short.

    An MQ-9 was launched from the runway and circled the air twice, remaining below the clouds, while about 100 invited guests of the wing, local media, and members of the 174th watched. The aircraft was controlled by a crew in another building on base, who conducted a practice landing before bringing the aircraft back down to the runway after 20 minutes.

    When aircraft are launched on complete training missions, a Civil Air Patrol Cessna will follow the MQ-9s from Hancock Field until they enter restricted military airspace over Fort Drum, the Adirondacks Mountains and Lake Ontario. This trail plane - which will fly a mile behind the MQ-9 - will enable the wing to comply with Federal Aviation Administration requirements that remotely piloted aircraft in general aviation airspace be able to “sense and avoid” other planes, Semmel explained.

    The ability to fly the MQ-9’s directly from Hancock Field, instead of just from Fort Drum, will enable his wing to train more MQ-9 “Reaper” pilots and sensor operators, Semmel said.

    Student pilots and sensor operators – the Airmen who are responsible for manipulating the multi-million camera and other instruments carried on board the unmanned aircraft—currently have to drive 90 minutes from Hancock Field to Fort Drum to conduct flying operations, Semmel explained.

    The ability to launch an aircraft directly from Hancock Field, and save three hours driving time daily for ground crews and students alike, will mean more training time, the colonel said. It also reduces the risk of personnel driving over northern New York roads which can be hazardous in the winter, he added.

    The change should also save taxpayers about $1 million in vehicle expenses and man hours spent on the road driving instead of training, Semmel said.

    The 174th has been tasked to train 106 MQ-9 pilots and sensor operators in 2016, a 50 percent increase in the number of MQ-9 aircrew trained in 2015, Semmel said. The wing also trains 250 to 300 MQ-9 maintainers each year.

    The wing will continue to land and launch aircraft at the Fort Drum airfield, Semmel said.

    Trainee pilots and sensor operators are required to drop both dummy and live 500 pound bombs from the MQ-9 has part of their training program, but the wing will not fly armed aircraft from Hancock Field.

    The Fort Drum Launch and Recovery facility will be used when aircraft must be flown with bombs under the wings, Semmel said.

    The 174th has spent more than two years working with the FAA and other agencies to prepare for the Dec. 16, flight. On Dec. 6, 2014 the wing taxied an MQ-9 on the civilian side of the runway for the first time.

    He would have liked to see the process move more quickly, Semmel told reporters, but it was more important that the process be done right.

    “We took the time to do it right, to do it deliberately, to go through the process and ensure that every stakeholder with this new technology, flying around a civilian air field, was comfortable with it,” Semmel said. “A lot of work has been done.”

    The FAA modified airspace around Hancock Field in 2013 to expand available training areas and provide transition from high altitude down to Hancock Field.

    The 174th Attack Wing is the first Air Force organization - which includes the Active Air Force and Air Force Reserve - in the United States to fly the remotely piloted aircraft in class 'C' airspace, the common airspace around commercial airports.

    Class C Airspace is generally that airspace from the surface to 4,000 feet above the airport elevation surrounding airports that have an operational control tower, are serviced by a radar approach control, and have instrument flight operations or passenger terminals.

    Over the past week, the FAA granted approval for the wing to begin launch and recovery operations with the MQ-9 Reaper aircraft from Hancock Field Air National Guard Base and the Syracuse International Airport.

    The Air Force’s remotely piloted aircraft, the MQ-9 and MQ-1, are launched by a pilot/sensor operator team based at that aircraft’s location. When the aircraft reaches altitude, control is handed off to another pilot/sensor operator flight crew who can control the aircraft from anywhere in the world using a satellite uplink system.

    The 60 MQ-9 pilots assigned to the 174th Attack Wing control aircraft flying in the Central Command Area of Operations - which includes Iraq and Afghanistan - from a facility at Hancock Field, Semmel said.

    While operating aircraft directly from Hancock Field has tangible benefits like more training time and saving tax dollars, the intangible benefits of the change are just as important, Semmel emphasized.

    “We are a community based Air Force. We are in the community of Syracuse and it is so important to bring flying operations back here to the airfield and show our community what we are all about, and show them we are still a vibrant tradition and what we do every day to support our nation and state,” Semmel said.



    Date Taken: 12.16.2015
    Date Posted: 12.17.2015 12:21
    Story ID: 184774
    Location: SYRACUSE, NY, US 

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