Officials at the 174th Attack Wing suspended all Reaper drone flights in Central New York yesterday after one of the MQ-9 unmanned aircraft crashed into Lake Ontario about 12 miles from the eastern shore, during a routine training flight. The 174th, the only attack wing in the total Air Force, began flying the MQ-9 remotely piloted vehicle in 2009. The last two F-16s flown by the wing left Syracuse in 2010. The Reaper that crashed Tuesday was unarmed and had been in the air about three hours when it went down in the lake. It was one of two drones that took off from Fort Drum, outside Watertown, during a training exercise. The other drone returned safely.
The drone crashed into the lake about 20 miles northeast of the Port of Oswego, and about 12 miles from the eastern shore. No decision has been made yet on when Reaper training flights will resume. the Syracuse.com reported.
The 174th Attack Wing flies the Reapers unarmed, across a wide swath of Upstate New York, from west of Rochester eastward to near Blue Mountain Lake, and from Syracuse north to the Massena area. The drones fly at 18,000 feet in airspace that is off limits to commercial aircraft. When the drones carry missiles, they are restricted to military air space in Northern New York.
The unit also flies MQ-9s in the skies above Afghanistan from an operations center at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base. The next step in the 174th’s transition to full-up MQ-9 operations is to fly the aircraft directly from Hancock Field. That should occur next summer, said Col. Greg Semmel, the 174th Attack Wing commander. The Federal Aviation Administration is reviewing a request to fly Reapers out of Hancock Field north of Syracuse, but thus far has not granted it.
The 174th Attack Wing has been operating the MQ-9 at Fort Drum since 2009 and has been using hangar space belonging to the 10th Mountain Division‘s 10th Combat Aviation Brigade. This space did not allow enough hangar space to shelter all aircraft needed for flying operations and conduct routine maintenance on the aircraft.
The Wing has recently established a new base for its MQ-9 “Reaper” operations at Fort Drum’s Wheeler Sack Army Airfield. where the wing now operates a Launch and Recovery Element hangar. This hangar provides space to house and maintain two of the four MQ-9 aircraft the wing bases at Wheeler Sack. The new hangar took nine months to build and uses green technology to keep heating costs down in northern New York’s harsh winters.
The 174th trains MQ-9 maintainers at its Field Training Detachment at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse and uses Wheeler Sack Army Airfield to train MQ-9 pilots and sensor operators at its Formal Training Unit. The MQ-9 crews practice takeoff and landings from the airfield and drop live and inert munitions at the air-ground range the wing operates at Fort Drum.
The new hangar is the first step in a series of Air National Guard building projects planned for Wheeler Sack Army Airfield. The 174th Attack Wing plans to build a second hangar in the coming year to support launch and recovery operations which will allow MQ-9 operations to move completely out of the Army facilities.