A Wrinkle in New Total Force Missions

Despite the fact that the FAA has cleared USAF MQ-1 and MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicles to assist with domestic disaster relief operations, there appears to still be some concern about their operation within US airspace on a continuing basis. As we reported earlier this year, the Pentagon and FAA have been working the issue, which has taken on even more urgency as more Air Force reserve components swap manned aircraft operations for unmanned, the result of BRAC 2005 and the service’s evolving Total Force application of limited aircraft and new missions. Apparently the issue is far from resolved. The Syracuse City News reports that FAA spokesman Less Dorr said last week, “We have not even begun considering how we might be able to integrate operations where unmanned aircraft and civilian piloted aircraft are based at the same airport.” He was referring to the planned placement of MQ-9 Reaper UAVs with the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Fighter Wing at Hancock Field, near Syracuse. According to Dorr, the Reapers will need “the same see-and-avoid capabilities” as piloted aircraft. The wing commander, Col. Kevin Bradley, told the newspaper that he believes all issues will be resolved by the time the wing gets its first Reapers in about three years. Before that, he said the unit would be flying MQ-9s that are deployed from elsewhere to combat operations. He said the Air Force is the “driving force” behind coordination with the FAA and fully expected the service to “provide a way” to meet the FAA requirements.