HOMESTEAD AFB, Fla. — Airman from the 432nd Wing have traveled across the country the past two years bringing the MQ-9 to different air shows as part of an information campaign.
The pilots, sensor operators and maintainers displayed the MQ-9 Reaper to more than 175,000 native Floridians and military families at Homestead Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 3 as part of that campaign. Even the commander of Air Combat Command, Gen. Mike Holmes, stopped by.
“We bring the MQ-9 to places, especially air shows like Homestead, to make sure people can be better educated on the mission and what we do,” said Senior Airman Tyler, 15th Attack Squadron sensor operator.
First Lt. Kory, 15th ATKS pilot, explained that one of the major misconceptions people have is that the MQ-9 is a drone; however, the aircraft is no different than a traditional aircraft. The cockpit has the same stick and throttle controls but is just located on the ground.
“Another (aspect of the aircraft) is the precision guided munitions,” Kory said. “A misconception with that is the aircraft itself fires them, but in fact, those weapons don’t leave the rail until I tell them to do so.”
The MQ-9 Airmen also showcased the aircraft to young children and explained its capabilities, what their job is, how they accomplish it, and how the children could one day become a part of the Remotely Piloted Aircraft enterprise.
According to a U.S. Air Force study, a significant portion of military recruits chose to serve due to community relations engagements such as air shows. In fact, one of the pilots briefing the MQ-9 at Homestead was one such recruit.
“One of the best interactions I had at this air show was talking to the children,” said Capt. Donald, 15th ATKS pilot. “I used to attend air shows growing up at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and it’s awesome and an honor to come here and be on the other end of the spectrum and be the pilot I used to talk to as a kid and potentially inspire future Air Force Airmen.”
During the show, Airmen had the opportunity to hear a life-saving experience from a former service member. This was just one of the many stories Airmen received while performing their persistent attack and reconnaissance duties.
“A veteran came up behind us and placed his left hand on the fuselage, closed his eyes and dropped his head,” said Capt. Philip, 432nd WG chief of plans and exercises. “I asked him if everything was alright and he responded with ‘this thing saved me and my platoon’s life, I can’t begin to tell you what this means to me.’”
The man began to weep, Philip placed his hand on the man’s shoulder and asked him to tell his story. He recounted that during an ambush overseas, an MQ-9 was called in to strike, which neutralized the enemies and stopped the gunfire. He and his platoon were able to fight another day and make it home to their families after their tour.
“His story made me even more proud of what we do and reminds us that after all of the training and the long hours that there is a bigger reason we serve,” Philip said. “This is why we fight, to bring our brothers and sisters in arms back home.”
The 432nd Wing will continue to deliver justice to the nation’s enemies and plans to continue attending national and international air shows next year.