163rd Reconnaissance Wing makes final preparations for Predator flights
Members of the 163rd Reconnaissance Wing here are now ready to begin training the Airmen on the MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft system.
March Air Reserve Base officials expect to fly its first "live" training sortie in January from the former George Air Force Base, now known as Southern California Logistics Airport after having successfully surpassed two years of combat operations flying the Predator.
"We are really excited about taking this critical next step in our employment of the Predator," said Col. Randall Ball, the 163rd Operations Group commander. "We've been working toward this since getting the Predator mission in 2006 and it has taken a total team effort to go from concept to reality as quickly as we have."
Unit officials transitioned from its support mission flying the KC-135 Stratotanker to conducting active combat flying the Predator. After beginning Predator flight operations, the wing was charged to provide three continuous combat air patrols over Southwest Asia. As a result of the "surge," the wing has amassed more than 21,000 flying hours supporting combat operations overseas by providing combatant commanders with 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week aerial surveillance and precision strike capability.
Once the facilities and infrastructure needed to support the flying program at SCLA are in place, the wing will begin flying the Predator locally in preparation for its first class of Predator aviators, which is scheduled to begin in April 2009.
"We need to make sure we take a steady approach to starting the flight training program here so we can ensure we are training the best Predator pilots possible able to step out of the classroom and into the combat theater providing the kind of support commanders need and have come to expect," said Lt. Col. Kirby Colas, the 196th Reconnaissance Squadron commander.
Initially the wing will begin training Air National Guard members as Predator aircrews, but the program is expected to expand to include training active duty aviators as well to relieve some of the load for Creech Air Force Base, Nev., currently the only base training Predator aircrews.
Currently, the wing conducts Predator maintenance training in its recently-established, state-of-the-art field training detachment operating under Creech AFB Det. 13 as part of Air Education and Training Command. The fully-accredited maintenance training facility currently trains active duty and Guard Predator maintenance personnel.
by Capt. Al Bosco
163rd Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs
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