Reaper Ascendant

The Air Force is preparing to say goodbye to the MQ-1 Predator as it focuses its remotely piloted aircraft forces on flying the newer, more deadly MQ-9. The Reaper, which reached initial operational capability in 2007, is the unmanned platform of the future because of its close air support capabilities. Its payload capacity is almost 10 times greater than that of the Predator, which allows it to bring more firepower into the fight. Given the requirements placed on RPA crews around the world today, “transitioning to an all MQ-9 force is imperative for readiness,” said the commander of the 432nd Operations Group at Creech AFB, Nev., according to a press release. The change will also streamline pilot training and allow airmen to move more easily among squadrons without the need for retraining on a new platform. The Air Force plans to stop flying the MQ-1 altogether sometime in 2018. Originally designed as a line-of-sight ISR platform called the RQ-1, the renamed MQ-1 evolved over its lifespan to add armaments and remote piloting capability. “The MQ-1 is a great example where the Air Force took a technology demonstrator and turned it into a major weapons system having daily effects on the battlefield,” said the commander of the 20th Attack Squadron, Whiteman AFB, Mo. The Air Force does not release the full names of RPA operators for security reasons.