Under the blue skies of the Inland Empire, an MQ-1 predator performed a normal training sortie in the overhead pattern of the Southern California Logistics Airport, as military and civic leaders celebrated the grand opening of a new 17,500 square foot hangar facility, June 15. The ribbon cutting ceremony, hosted by Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, adjutant general, California Military Department and Col. Randall Ball, commander, 163d Reconnaissance Wing, opened a new 5 million dollar, state-of-the-art, remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) hangar, the first of its kind for the Air National Guard.
During the presentation, Ball highlighted the capabilities the 163d RW brings to the playing table. â€œThis mission will protect our troops overseas and assist the state and local communities during times of natural or man-made crises,â€ Ball said.
Planning for this geographically separated Launch and Recovery Element facility began in 2006, when it was clear the National Airspace System could not support routine operations of RPAs in and around urban areas, such as March Air Reserve Base, Calif. Criteria for the site included population density, runway dimensions, commute time from March ARB and flight time to the military training airspace. Negotiations with the City of Victorville and SCLA management began in 2008, culminating in an agreement to utilize an SCLA jet engine test facility, or â€œhush house,â€ as the interim operating facility, pending lease and construction of a permanent location. Site development plans and design of the new hangar began in early 2009, with Congressional appropriation for construction funds received in fiscal year 2010. With steadfast community support, the project was completed on schedule, earlier this year.
Also speaking at the dedication, Brad Metzelfelt, first district supervisor, San Bernardino County, voiced his districtâ€™s strong support for the 163d RW, noting a significant, positive impact the military presence brought to the local High Desert communities. Community appreciation and support was echoed by many of the civic leaders and local government officials attending the event.
During keynote comments, Baldwin emphasized the military relationship with the local community stating, â€œOur National Guard is a community-based organization here to serve. We take very seriously the integration and partnering with our communities because itâ€™s those communities that our soldiers and airman work in and live in every day. Itâ€™s those communities we are committed to protecting first and foremost.â€
The new facilities will accommodate MQ-9 Reapers and MQ-1 Predators with additional space adjacent to the fabric â€œbig topâ€ hangar for more RPAs. In addition, the opportunity for expanding SCLA capabilities by utilizing the vacated â€œhush houseâ€ site, offers greater promise as an alternate facility for launch and recovery or flight test operations. The ideal weather, close proximity to vast military airspace and joint training opportunities utilizing the National Training Center at Fort Irwin make SCLA a great fit.
â€œThe move to the hangar avails a newly renovated launch and recovery facility. The expanded facilities, complete with new fire suppression equipment, can accommodate two MQ-9 or four MQ-1 aircraft for deployed â€œSnowbirdâ€ Operations. The additional space allows for another unit to conduct launch and recovery operations in the temperate, high desert climate and supports reach-back RPA operations,â€ said Col. Kirby Colas, commander, 163d Maintenance Group.
Although SCLAâ€™s primary mission is to support formal training for U.S. Air Force and ANG remote aircraft pilots and sensor operators, the peacetime support for Department of Defense agencies and domestic interagency partners, are emerging rapidly. Natural disasters, search and rescue operations and combating threats such as narcotics trafficking, are ideal for RPA support.
Expanding on that scenario, Baldwin commented, â€œIâ€™ll be the first to say that everyone wearing a uniform swore to defend the Constitution which protects our civil liberties, and we are not going to violate peopleâ€™s civil liberties using these platforms.Â What we are going to do instead, is to bring this tremendous capability to save lives and protect property. The first search and rescue mission was conducted out of New Mexico using a Reaper, where they flew in unrestricted air space and saved the lives of kayakers who were lost and in trouble. This is the kind of capability we need here in Calif. with our aircraft flying out of the training unit here at SCLA.â€
This dedication ceremony marked another milestone for RPAs with the 163d RW and the CANG on the leading edge of this sunrise mission.