The New York Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing highlighted its ability to fly the MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft into any airport, anywhere on Thursday, May 5 when it landed an aircraft at Griffiss International Airport in Rome, New York.
Until last year, an MQ-9 required line of sight guidance from a ground control station to take off and land, limiting the places the MQ-9 could operate from.
The Automatic Takeoff and Landing Capability software developed for the MQ-9 first proved itself during tests at Creech Air Force Base in 2021.
On May 5, the 174th became the first MQ-9 wing to fly an aircraft from one commercial airport to another, flying from Hancock Field International Airport in Syracuse, New York, and landing in Rome.
In 2015, the 174th became the first MQ-9 unit to fly from a commercial airport when it began launching and recovering aircraft at Hancock Field alongside commercial passenger flights.
This new capability allows the MQ-9 to be more agile and dynamic by flying the aircraft to and from locations without the traditional ground logistical support, said Col. William J. McCrink, the commander of the 174th Attack Wing.
“I firmly believe this is going to be the way of the future,” McCrink said. “We look forward to the agility this gives us; then we can dynamically employ this platform.”
Using the new system allows for a smaller crew to work on the aircraft, he explained.
The MQ-9 launch and recovery process will only require a few Airmen for maintenance such as refueling and powering, he said.
“We’re proving that we can integrate into any airspace and airport no different than any other airframe with limited personnel and equipment, reducing our footprint significantly,” said Chief Master Sgt. Aaron Shaffer, 174th Maintenance Squadron’s senior enlisted leader.
The new capability is part of the Air Force’s Agile Combat Employment initiative designed to allow the Air Force to operate from more locations worldwide.
The new system would also allow the 174th Attack Wing to use MQ-9s in support of civilian missions here at home, like keeping an eye on wildfires or assisting in a search and rescue effort.
The California Air National Guard has deployed its MQ-9 to support civilian fire officials in monitoring forest fires, and the 174th Attack Wing has deployed personnel to California to help with that mission.
The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft that can conduct reconnaissance and surveillance missions, search and rescue, and precision strike and close air support missions while loitering above the battlefield for hours.
The basic crew consists of a rated pilot to control the aircraft and command the mission, an enlisted aircrew member to operate sensors and weapons, and a mission coordinator, when required.
Local media covered the MQ-9 landing and Rome Mayor Jacqueline Izzo turned out to watch the aircraft land as well.
“We are really thrilled that the 174th is here today,” she said. “We hope that this becomes a regular stop for them, and they do training here.”