Representing the past, present and future of United States Air Force air power, the MQ-9 Reaper was featured at the Joint Base Andrews, Md., 2019 Air and Space Expo, May 10-12, 2019.
Celebrating legends in flight, the MQ-9 was the only Remotely Piloted Aircraft showcased among milestone aircraft such as the T-38 Talon and C-5 Galaxy.
Among notable aircraft were also notable people.
“I don’t think we’ve put forward a weapon system that has had more impact on the fight against violent extremism,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein, as he visited with MQ-9 aircrew.
The MQ-9s predecessor, RQ-1/MQ-1 Predator was created in response to a directive from the Department of Defense to support contingency operations and disable targets with persistence and precision.
“I’m proud to be a part of the Remotely Piloted Aircraft enterprise and I’m grateful for our opportunity to be out here sharing our mission,” said Capt. Gregory, 17th Attack Squadron MQ-9 pilot. “We have pilots and sensor operators here helping to get the word out. It’s important to understand that we are an aircrew. We have reliance and trust in each other to be able to watch each other’s back.”
The aircrew team is made up of a commissioned pilot in command of the aircraft during all phases of flight and an enlisted aviator sensor operator responsible for operating the aircraft’s sophisticated sensor suite, otherwise known as the Multi-Spectral Targeting System.
The MTS has a robust suite of visual sensors for targeting and intelligence gathering. Capabilities include an infrared sensor, color and monochrome daylight TV camera, image-intensified TV camera, laser range finder and designator, and laser illuminator. The full-motion video from each of the imaging sensors can be viewed as separate video streams or fused.
“Two heads are better than one,” said Senior Airman Noah, 17th ATKS MQ-9 sensor operator. “We back the pilot up and run the checklist as the pilot flies the aircraft.”
The team works together in the cockpit while a legion of Airmen support operations across the RPA enterprise, which has been airborne every minute of every day since Sept. 11, 2001.
“We put a lot of work into what we do,” said Noah. “This aircraft is more manned than most, even though there is no one in it. We’ve got pilots, sensors, technicians watching the links at the relay, intelligence analysts, and so many people supporting operations.”
This cadre of Airmen include aviation resource managers, base defenders, support elements, and maintenance professionals; all working together to achieve one mission.
“This weapon system has been a game changer,” said Goldfein. “It not only does the persistent (intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance), but the attack business better than anything else we have.”