Even though Reaper pilots have been operating out of the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base since 2009, the MQ-9 aircraft has never actually been used at the base. For training missions, they're flown out of Fort Drum. Tuesday the drone taxied at the base for the first time. Reporter Katie Gibas has the story.
ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- The excitement is building at the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, as the MQ-9 reaper moved across the runway at the base for the first time ever.
"To be able to get airplanes back on the ramp, operating in our own hometown. In our community. To be able to show the community that we have airplanes here and that we can do it safely and operate off of Hancock Field safely, is huge for us and just as a morale builder for the organization. It's great," said Col. Greg Semmel, the 174th Attack Wing Commander.
While the reapers are piloted out of Hancock, they're currently housed at Fort Drum. The 174th Attack Wing was approached by the FAA to help them come up with regulations and safety precautions to fly the unmanned aircrafts out of Central New York. Taxiing on the runway was the first step to being able to take off from the airfield.
"Not having have to move a lot of folks up to Fort Drum and back here almost every day so by operating right out of here will be a lot more cost efficient. We'll save a lot of money in logistics. We'll be able to increase our thruput for training more students," said Maj. Gen. Verle Johnston, the NY Air National Guard Commander.
It will still be a slow and methodical process before seeing the MQ-9 Reaper in the air. The 174th Attack Wing Commander said he hopes to see them off the ground in the next six months.
"Just staying within just a couple miles within the airfield here to work out the procedures and to get the FAA controllers comfortable with the operations. And once we're comfortable with that, we'll work our way out further," said Semmel.
The commander of the 174th said even once they're approved to fly out of Hancock, they will continue Fort Drum operations. As part of pilot training, they do need to learn about loading weapons into the reapers, and that will not happen in Syracuse. That training will be reserved for Fort Drum.
More than 99.5 percent of overseas missions for the MQ-9 is surveillance to support troops on the ground.
They said the drones will not be used for surveillance on U.S. civilians.
The commander said being able to fly the Reapers out of Hancock will also allow them to better assist in emergency situations and natural disasters here at home.