During a routine training flight, the 489th Attack Squadron at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., made history as the first attack squadron under the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing to utilize the MQ-9 Reaper’s Automatic Takeoff and Landing Capability Aug 3, 2021, during a routine training flight.
ATLC is a key enabler for MQ-9 Agile Combat Employment and is expected to change how the MQ-9 will be employed in theaters worldwide. Previously, all ACC MQ-9 takeoffs and landings utilizing ATLC were tested by the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron. With their recent successes in testing, the capability has now moved to the operational phase of familiarizing with the units. As more and more aircrew learn to utilize the capability, it can be expected that it will spread to more squadrons in the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Enterprise.
“We’re going to take this down range, and forward deploy it,” said Lt. Col. Travis, 489th ATKS commander. “The team has done a great job getting the capability ready for operational employment, so our focus right now is to get Airmen that are ready to deploy fully trained on the capability.”
According to Travis, ATLC could be used downrange as early as this September. The training required to operate the new capability is significant. Aircrew are required to perform hours of academics, including basic principles on how it works, standardized testing, an emergency procedures simulator, and local flights before becoming certified to use the capability.
“With this capability we will eventually be able to land in higher winds and lower visibility,” Travis said. “The focus for this capability is ensuring repeatability and the safety of take offs and landings.”
As the Air Force continues to accelerate innovation, the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Enterprise may see it’s roles and capabilities evolve with the MQ-9 Reaper’s ATLC.
“ATLC is the next step in the evolution of this platform,” Travis said. “It allows us to focus on the capabilities that we need in the future. We’ll be able to deploy more rapidly to airfields that we haven’t been able to access previously and do that in a way, that’s safe, repeatable and predictable for our joint partners and geographic combatant commands.”