Members of the 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron unit push an MQ-1 Predator toward a hangar for a routine maintenance inspection shortly after landing. The remotely piloted aircraft are launched, recovered and landed by members of the 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron. The reconnaissance unit is comprised of deployed Air Force members from the 432nd Operations Group, Creech Air Force Base, Nev., and the 27th Special Operations Group, Cannon AFB, N.M. Additionally, the British Royal Air Force also operates RPAs from Creech AFB and they too are deployed to KAF. (U.S Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nancy Hooks)
Lt. Col. James Curry, 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron commander, remotely pilots the MQ-9 Reaper at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan June 8 reaching their 250,000 flying hours. The remotely piloted aircraft are launched, recovered and landed by members of the 62nd ERS. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nancy Hooks/Released)
by Tech. Sgt. Renni Thornton
451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
6/16/2010 - Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan -- Members of the 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron at Kandahar Airfield reached a significant milestone recently when the Air Force's remotely piloted aircraft flew their 250,000th hour in Afghanistan at the end of May.
The 62nd ERS is home to the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper aircraft at KAF. Over a five-year span, the unit has flown and supported these aircraft, beginning in 2005.
The squadron's operational tempo has increased tremendously in the past year, said Lt. Col. Morgan Curry, 62nd ERS commander. "48 percent of our five-year total was flown in the past 12 months."
The reconnaissance unit is comprised of Air Force members deployed from the 432nd Operations Group, Creech Air Force Base, Nev., and the 27th Special Operations Group, Cannon AFB. Additionally, the British Royal Air Force also operates RPAs from Creech AFB and KAF. The aircraft are operated jointly by the 62nd ERS and by Airmen at Creech AFB and Cannon AFB, as well as by Air National Guard crews located across the U.S. and by RAF crews in the UK.
The crews use satellite uplinks that allow the transfer of control between the deployed local pilots who taxi, launch, land and recover the aircraft from trailers near the flight line and the crews based in the U.S. or UK.
Teams from multiple units across the US are the ones who control the aircraft in flight, said Colonel Curry, another unique aspect of the remotely-piloted aircraft's mission.
"When I first arrived, this was different for me. I was part of the flight crew team at Creech so it had been a while since I had landed the aircraft. But it's great to see both sides of the operations," Colonel Curry said.
The primary mission of the 62nd ERS is to launch and recover all the Air Force RPAs in Afghanistan, said Colonel Curry.
A separate team of military and civilian members maintain and repair the aircraft, when necessary.
"Maintenance and inspections are performed on the aircraft just like manned aircraft. If we need to, we also replace the weapons and get it back in the air. "
"The intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities are a huge part of our strategy to keep an eye on everything, literally," he said.
The unit spans the gamut from strategic to tactical ISR, from keeping an eye on large targets to performing tactical ISR, watching out for coalition and Afghan partners.
Both aircraft can perform dual missions of close-air support and ISR taskings.
The Predator can stay airborne for more than 24 hours and although the Reaper does not fly as long as the Predator, it can fly at higher altitudes and can carry more weapons, according to squadron officials.
Each aircraft is equipped with a full-motion video camera with various modes that can detect enemy movements.
The MQ-1 Predator carries the Multi-spectral Targeting System which integrates electro-optical, infrared, laser designator and laser illuminator into a single sensor package, according to an Air Force fact sheet.
The aircraft can employ two laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missiles.
Reapers provide the joint force commander a persistent hunter-killer, able to strike emerging targets. The MQ-9 also acts as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance asset, employing sensors to provide real-time data to commanders and intelligence specialists at all levels.