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New system allows NY ANG MQ-9s to fly without chase planes

A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper flies during RED FLAG-Alaska 19-2, June 19 2019, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.  This is the first time the MQ-9 aircraft participated in the Pacific Air Forces-sponsored exercise. The aircraft was controlled by Airmen of the 174th Attack Wing more than 4,000 miles away at their home station at Hancock Air Force Base, New York. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Daniel Snider)

A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper flies during RED FLAG-Alaska 19-2, June 19 2019, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.  This is the first time the MQ-9 aircraft participated in the Pacific Air Forces-sponsored exercise. The aircraft was controlled by Airmen of the 174th Attack Wing more than 4,000 miles away at their home station at Hancock Air Force Base, New York. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Daniel Snider)

HANCOCK FIELD AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Remotely Piloted MQ-9 Aircraft flying into and out of Syracuse International Airport are no longer accompanied by piloted airplanes, thanks to the recent installation of a military Ground Based Detect and Avoid Radar system.

The system, employed by the New York Air National Guard's 174th Attack Wing, allows for safer and more effective training missions flown by the wing's MQ-9 Reaper aircraft.

"This radar system enhances the safety of the wing's MQ-9 aircraft and helps prevent collisions with commercial air traffic," said New York Air National Guard Colonel Michael Smith, the commander of the 174th Attack Wing.

Previously, the MQ-9 had required an escort from a manned Civil Air Patrol airplane while transitioning up to and from 18,000 feet.

The escort for the MQ-9 provided enhanced safety for the Federal Aviation Administration, which required the remotely piloted aircraft to first operate with a level of safety equal to a manned aircraft before approving unrestricted flight operations.

These restrictions inhibited aircrew training and degraded the wing's flexibility to respond with aircraft quickly during federal or state missions, requiring unplanned Civil Air Patrol flights when unscheduled flights were needed.

This escort requirement added complexity and cost to the missions, Smith said. The new ground based radar system not only eliminates the escort requirement, but adds additional flexibility and efficiency to all MQ-9 training missions, Smith said.

The installation of the Ground Based Sense and Avoid system in August now meets the FAA requirement of a comprehensive collision avoidance system, Smith said.

The Detect and Avoid Radar System provides current air traffic data directly to MQ-9 aircrews while flying into and out of the local airspace surrounding Syracuse International Airport, an unprecedented safety enhancement for pilots to see and avoid other airplanes over Central New York, Smith said.

The system uses existing radars to locate nearby aircraft, including those not tracked by FAA systems, according to a statement from the system developers at the Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Data from these radars are processed and prioritized to then issue alerts to MQ-9 pilots compute the optimal avoidance maneuver.

This arrangement provides critical sense-and-avoid services to the MQ-9 flight operations without requiring the remotely piloted airplane to carry any additional equipment.

Previously, the chase aircraft from the Civil Air Patrol was the only additional sensor for the remotely piloted crews avoid other air traffic.

The Syracuse's Ground Based Detect and Avoid Radar System is the first of its kind for the Department of Defense operations of the MQ-9 aircraft. It is a potential template for other airports or military installations using remotely piloted aircraft, Smith said.

The 174th AW provides more than 4,000 flight training hours each year to qualify pilots and sensor operators, and the Syracuse GBDAA system supports the safe and efficient execution of those flights, he added.

The wing also trains all MQ-9 maintenance technicians for the Air Force, Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve.

The 174th AW was the first unit to fly a remotely piloted aircraft in class "C" airspace surrounding civilian airport when it began operations at Syracuse International Airport in December 2015.

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