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Total Force teamwork lands MQ-9 Reaper for first time at Shaw

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kyrii Richardson
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

U.S. Airmen assigned to the 25th Attack Group, here, and 163d Attack Wing, California Air National Guard, landed an MQ-9 Reaper from March Air Reserve Base, California, at Shaw Air Force Base for the first time ever Feb. 14.

Airmen assigned to Shaw AFB, Creech AFB, and  March ARB worked jointly to demonstrate the advancements in MQ-9 flying technology, providing a proof of concept for new satellite launch and recovery operations. This “total force” - which includes active duty, Air Force Reserve and National Guard Airmen - initiative increases capabilities by allowing MQ-9 maintenance crews to perform their duties with minimal equipment in any operational environment, furthering the 25th ATKG’s ability to provide air interdiction, strike coordination and reconnaissance anywhere, anytime. 

“This allows us to be more agile and serve the National Defense Strategy through Agile Combat Employment,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Trevor Merrell, 25th ATKG commander.

The MQ-9 has had many upgrades since its creation in 2007, and previous operations required large quantities of remotely piloted aircraft maintainers, pilots and sensor operators physically located down range to ensure a successful landing. This large personnel footprint is no longer required  because of the new SLR capability, allowing the total force to train and deploy in tandem more frequently with less impact on the in-garrison mission.

“We coordinated with the California Air National Guard for this operation since we’re now able to fly to any base,” said Capt. Ryan Beach, 50th Attack Squadron pilot. “We’re definitely more interoperable now that we have this SLR capability and we can go to more bases than we’ve been able to before.”

Coordination for this historic flight began with mission and flight planning, as well as securing approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly through national airspace. Airmen assigned to multiple weather squadrons provided insight and predictions during the planning process to make sure the operation went smoothly. Once the timeline was finalized, the 25th ATKG connected with the 163d ATKW to coordinate the flight.

“It was a significant total force effort for both the guard and active duty,” said Col. Trevor Merrell, 25th ATKG commander.

The 163d ATKW Airmen pre-coordinated with members at Shaw AFB for the delivery of their Portable Aircraft Control Station, which would allow the RPA maintainers to diagnose and service the aircraft after landing and before returning to March ARB.

“The way we used to do it required more people and equipment,” said Tech. Sgt. Robert Van Wyhe, 163d Aircraft Maintenance Squadron avionics technician. “Now the SLR capabilities reduce the footprint required.”

Missions like these provide opportunities for on-the-job-training and sharpening the skills of involved units. Seamlessly executing these tasks ensures the RPA community can maintain their mission success worldwide.