Don Bauder 7:35 p.m., June 19
Reaper Drones Take Flight
The U.S. Air National Guard has begun training flights on the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle, Aviation International News reports.
The Reaper, developed by San Diego’s General Atomics, is a larger, more powerful version of its predecessor, the Predator drone. Boasting a 950-horsepower engine, it can cruise at three times the speed and carry 15 times the ordnance of the Predator.
“The name Reaper is one of the suggestions that came from our Airmen in the field. It's fitting as it captures the lethal nature of this new weapon system,” said former General T. Michael Moseley in an official Air Force release when the drone was beginning development in 2006. “The Reaper represents a significant evolution in UAV technology and employment. "We've moved from using UAVs primarily in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance roles before Operation Iraqi Freedom, to a true hunter-killer role with the Reaper.”
The drones are launched and recovered by a ground crew at the Army’s Fort Drum in western New York, but are flown by pilots at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, New York. All flights are in restricted airspace over Fort Drum and Lake Ontario, as the drones are prohibited from operating in unrestricted airspace shared with commercial traffic.
87 of the Reapers are currently in service with the Air Force, less than one-fourth of the 400 commissioned. The vehicles will also be used by the Navy, the CIA, U.S. Customs and Border protection, the British Royal Air Force, and the Italian Air Force.