Tag Archives: General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

Don’t Fear the Reaper: A Rare Look inside Remotely Piloted Aircraft Operations at Holloman Air Force Base

We Went Inside USAF MQ-9 Reaper Training and Operations at Holloman AFB.

We never heard it. Out of the corner of my eye in a cloudless, bright blue New Mexico desert sky I saw the glint of a reflection over our bus. I glanced outside again. Nothing. No sound. Nothing in the sky. Then the glint flashed again, and this time I spotted it. But it was too late. The Reaper was already upon us.

This was the first time I had seen a General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper combat aircraft in flight. The experience stands in stark contrast to the thunder of fast jets or the whine of turboprops. In fact, the quiet whirring of the little 900 horsepower Honeywell turboprop seemed oddly toy-like. It seemed that way, if it wasn’t powering one of the most effective combat aircraft in the U.S. arsenal.

Holloman AFB in New Mexico is home to the U.S. Air Force 49th Wing Remotely Piloted Aircraft squadrons. The units include the 6th, 9th and unique 29th Attack Squadrons of the 49th Wing. This is the primary school for teaching new pilots to fly the MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft. The school provides initial qualification training for the two person aircrews that fly the Reaper. In fact the 49th Wing’s 29th Attack Squadron (ATKS) is reported to be the only complete training unit for MQ-9 Reaper aircrews in the U.S. Air Force. This distinction puts their capabilities in high demand.

Out of the clear, blue New Mexico sky an MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft flies over us at Holloman AFB.

Remotely piloted aircraft have been the subject of misconceptions that are largely the result of fiction about “drones” or equipment that somehow spins out of human control. It is almost no more possible with a remotely piloted aircraft like the Reaper than it is with an onboard manned aircraft using a modern fly-by-wire flight control system.

There have been rare instances of adversaries jamming or supposedly taking control of remotely piloted aircraft, as with a December 2011 incident when the Iranian military managed to capture a U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel remotely piloted aircraft. But this incident is more of an anomaly than the risk of hijacks using a manned aircraft, as with the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States.

In fact, because security for the signal transmission that links the remotely piloted aircraft directly to its flight crew is codified and constantly improving, it is more likely that a onboard-manned aircraft can be hijacked than a remotely piloted aircraft. Remotely piloted aircraft can also be destroyed without risking the loss of flight crew, as was the case with an incident in September of 2009 in Afghanistan when U.S. combat aircraft destroyed a remotely piloted aircraft that suffered a rare control malfunction.

Last week TheAviationist.com gladly accepted a rare media invitation to see the RPA training operations at Holloman AFB in New Mexico. The school operates several versions of the General Atomics MQ-9 Predator aircraft primarily for training new Predator aircrews.

A distant shot of Reapers at Holloman AFB being used in training missions over New Mexico.

During our tour of the facility, aircrews wore opaque adhesive tape over their name badges for operational security. The missions these aircrews are training for are real world. One instructor related a mission when a new Predator pilot, after extensive training, was tasked with employing live weapons against actual operational targets in a conflict zone only 37 minutes after receiving their full qualification. That level of operational readiness is unprecedented in nearly all current tactical aviation.

His name obscured by tape for operational security, a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper pilot describes the video feed from live missions being flown over Holloman AFB.

Predator operators and aircraft live behind additional layers of security within security in the remote New Mexico desert at Holloman. Because the nature of remotely operated combat aircraft reduces deployment time to near zero being in one of the control vans at Holloman was tantamount to standing on an operational forward airstrip in a conflict zone.

A sensor ball mounted under the nose of an MQ-9. This contains various spectrum sensors and cameras and provides the flight crew with their view of the flight operations.

As we received our briefings the cockpit feed from optical sensors and flight control instruments on live aircraft in flight appeared on monitors. It looked like flying any light aircraft, whether it is a Cessna general aviation aircraft or a small, stealthy combat aircraft like the MQ-9 Predator. As we watched an MQ-9 practice landing approaches we could see the response to the pilot’s flight control inputs. These really are just another form of highly capable light combat aircraft.

A rare look into the “cockpit” of the MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted combat aircraft.

In March of 2017 the website Military.com reported that USAF Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson told a media roundtable at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida that, “The U.S. Air Force now has more jobs for MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers than any other type of pilot position.”

With the expansion of remotely piloted aircraft operations and the demand for aircrews to fly them it is reasonable to expect that the 49th Wing at Holloman will continue to be a very busy place.

Operational security around reaper control vans is elevated since the training and missions are a critical asset.

 

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The Italian Air Force Predator A+ Drones Appear With Brand New Markings At New Squadron Activation Ceremony

The Italian Air Force Predator A+ of the 32° Stormo (Wing) appear with new markings.

On Jul. 10, the Italian Air Force announced the reactivation of the 61° Gruppo (Squadron), disbanded in 1943, at Sigonella airbase, in Sicily, that will operate the MQ-1C Predator A+ UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) as a detached unit of the 32° Stormo, headquartered at Amendola, southeastern Italy.

The drones, piloted by aircrews coming from the 28° Gruppo and supported by ground crews of the 41° Stormo, based at Sigonella, will reinforce the Italian surveillance capabilities in southern Italy.

The new squadron will complement the other squadron of the 32nd Wing, the 28° Gruppo also based at Amendola, that already operates a mixed force of MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1C Predator A+ drones that are used to undertake a wide variety of tasks: along with the standard ISR (intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions, the Italian Predators have supported MEDEVACs (Medical Evacuations), TIC (Troops In Contact) operations, IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) monitoring, Convoy Escort in Iraq and Afghanistan; they have supported Operation Unified Protector in Libya, Mare Nostrum operation in the Mediterranean Sea near Lampedusa (where they have monitored the migratory flows and consequent tragic ship wreckage off the island) and, from Djibouti, have monitored the seas off the coast of Somalia in anti-piracy missions. They are also currently deployed in Kuwait to support the US-led anti-ISIS operation in Syria and Iraq. Leveraging their persistence on the target area, the drones have also supported Police forces during major events.

Noteworthy, the photos of the 61° Gruppo reactivation ceremony posted by the Italian Air Force on social media exposed an interesting detail.

Indeed, for the very first time, the Predators belonging to the 32° Stormo appear to sport the standard Wing’s livery that includes the aircraft code 32-xx on the fuselage and the Wing’s emblem, the Hawk, on the the tails.

One of the Italian MQ-1C Predator A+ drones sporting the individual code 32-33.

With the addition of the new markings, the Predators of the 61° and 28 ° Gruppo will now feature the same kind of markings worn by the F-35A Lightning II aircraft of the 13° Gruppo of the 32° Stormo, Italy’s first JSF squadron that has recently celebrated its 100th anniversary (with special tail markings.)

Close up view of the Hawk applied to the tails of the Predator.

Image credit: ItAF

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U.S. Air Force Video Shows ISIS Militants Failing To Launch A UAV In Syria

ISIS Unmanned Aerial Vehicle fail as seen from above.

ISIS is known to operate a wide variety of UAVs. Surveillance, Kamikaze, grenade-dropping drones and quadcopters are often dispatched to perform both reconnaissance and bombing missions.

Their ability to drop small bombs with pinpoint accuracy has raised concerns that Daesh fighters could attack Iraqi and coalition troops as well as civilians, not only from the ground, but also from the air.

For this reason, increasingly, U.S. and allied aircraft flying over Syria and Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve are tasked with hunting COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) and Daesh-modified drones, their launch sites or production facilities.

However, sometimes kinetic air strikes are not even needed to destroy these small drones.

The following video was taken on Mar. 30, 2017, near Tabqah, Syria.

It shows a Daesh militant attempting to launch a small UAV from a roof. The scene, seemigly filmed from a Reaper or Predator drone, ends with the UAV crash landing in front of the building.

 

U.S. Marine Corps helicopters aboard amphibious assault ship and USAF drones lead new round of U.S. air strikes on ISIS in Libya

Manned and unmanned aircraft have taken part in the air strikes launched on Aug. 1, against Daesh targets around Sirte, in Libya.

On Aug. 1, the U.S. launched a new round of air strikes against Islamic State positions around Sirte, in northern Libya, mid-way between Tripoli and Benghazi.

According to the Pentagon, the raid was conducted following a request by the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) to support GNA-affiliated forces seeking to defeat Daesh in its primary stronghold in Libya.

The raids were just the final stage of a three-phase operation planned and managed by AFRICOM, MilitaryTimes has reported: the first element of this plan was dubbed Operation Odyssey Resolve, consisting of ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) flights in the region; the second, Operation Junction Serpent, provided targeting information; while the third element, Operation Odyssey Lightning, saw the actual air strikes take place.

The latter ones were reportedly launched by a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone based at Sigonella airbase, in Sicily, Italy, as well as by helicopters aboard the U.S. amphibious assault ship USS Wasp.

USS Wasp, with an Aviation Combat Element of the 22nd MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit), consisting of a composite squadron, the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 264 (Reinforced) – VMM-264, containing MV-22B, CH-53E, AH-1W, UH-1Y helicopters and AV-8B+ Harrier II jets, played a major role in Operation Odyssey Lightning.

160626-N-JW440-229 ATLANTIC OCEAN (June 26, 2016) Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Markgerald Zagala signals an AH-1W Super Cobra to land aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). Wasp is deployed with the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group to support maritime security and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operation. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Rawad Madanat/Released)

160626-N-JW440-229 ATLANTIC OCEAN (June 26, 2016) Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Markgerald Zagala signals an AH-1W Super Cobra to land aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). Wasp is deployed with the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group to support maritime security and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operation. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Rawad Madanat/Released)

In particular, at least two Super Cobra from HMLA-269 were launched from USS Wasp and used their AGM-114 Hellfire missiles to destroy some ground vehicles and two T-72 tanks.Here below an interesting infographic put together by Middle East expert, military aviation journalist Babak Taghvaee who has collected some details about the first raid in Libya.According to the details available at the moment, the AV-8B Harriers have not been involved in the air strikes yet.USS Wasp activity infographic

Top image credit: U.S. Marine Corps

 

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Unusual footage: Russian drone films American drone over Syria

Interesting footage released by the Russian MoD.

According to the Russian MoD, during the last few days the US-led coalition in Syria has deployed three times more drones than before with up to 50 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles often up in the air at the same time.

The Russians claim that the coalition UAVs are conducting reconnaissance missions over oil fields along the Syrian-Turkish border which the terrorists allegedly use to smuggle oil into Turkey.

“You realize that with the scale of video monitoring being done, our colleagues could share information about what is going on along the Syrian-Turkish border and how much oil the terrorists are selling and where,” Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said during a press conference in Moscow.

Whilst the U.S. said they “cannot see oil trucks crossing the border,” rejecting Russia’s evidence of Turkey’s involvement in oil deals with Daesh provided in the aftermath of the controversial shoot-down of a Su-24 Fencer by a Turkish F-16, the Russians claim that all the American drones from Incirlik airbase should have seen the tanker trucks moving across the Turkish border.

Anyway, as some many UAVs share the same skies close encounters between drones and videos like the one below should become more frequent.