Remotely Piloted Aircraft Fleet Nears Combat Milestone

The Air Force’s fleet of MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft is on track to reach one million combat flight hours in March—a feat 14 years in the making. However, the growth in RPA combat air patrols is happening at such an astounding rate that it should only take another two and half years to reach the two-million-hour mark, said Col. James Gear, head of the Air Force’s RPA task force, Wednesday during an industry conference in Washington, D.C. “When I started this business in 2003 to 2005, we were planning on how to get to 24 CAPS in 2010. We really didn’t think we could do that,” said Gear, who acknowledged that the Air Force had grossly underestimated demand. The Air Force now expects to reach 65 combined Reaper and Predator CAPs and four RQ-4 Global Hawk RPA CAPs in 2013, he said.