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174th Attack Wing Surpasses 1,000 Flying Hour Mark for Local MQ-9 Operations

A MQ-9 Reaper takes off from Wheeler Sack Army Airfield (WSAAF) at Fort Drum, New York on 14 Feb 2012.  The MQ-9 is from the 174th Fighter Wing which launches and recovers its aircraft at WSAAF.  (Photo by Tech. Sgt Ricky Best/RELEASED)

A MQ-9 Reaper takes off from Wheeler Sack Army Airfield (WSAAF) at Fort Drum, New York on 14 Feb 2012. The MQ-9 is from the 174th Fighter Wing which launches and recovers its aircraft at WSAAF. (Photo by Tech. Sgt Ricky Best/RELEASED)

Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, Syracuse, New York -- The 174th Attack Wing reached a major milestone in its local MQ-9 Reaper flight operations in March 2013 by completing 1,000 flying hours.

"It's a great accomplishment," said Chief Master Sgt. Mark Shearer of the Maintenance Operations Flight. "Some people thought we would never fly because of the weather here."

The 174th Attack Wing has flown MQ-9s off of Ft. Drum's Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield since October 2011 in support of the unit's Formal Training Unit (FTU).  The FTU is the only formal MQ-9 aircrew training facility in the Air National Guard, and it is responsible for training the next generation of MQ-9 pilots and sensor operators on how to fly the state-of-the-art remotely piloted aircraft.

The 174th initially flew just one flight per day, but now routinely flies two flights daily with an average flight time of just over three hours. A total of four planes have been flown out of Wheeler-Sack since local flight operations began in 2011. The plane with the most flight hours has 400, and the fewest just under 200. The hours each plane flies is meticulously maintained for inspection purposes.

The 174th was able to pass this mark in a little over a year and a half. They are now 200 hours past the 1,000 hour mark.

"We're doing all this with a relatively small but extremely experienced, dedicated group of maintenance personnel," said Shearer. "Many of these people cross-trained from maintaining the F-16, and now they are some of the most experienced maintainers in the world operating the MQ-9 in a cold weather environment."

The work being done is also noticed by the civilian counterparts working on the base.  "What has been accomplished is amazing considering the manpower and numbers," said Robert C. Parry, MQ-9 Reaper Site Manager for General Atomics, the manufacturer of the MQ-9. "They haven't been given a task that wasn't exceeded. That's how hard these guys work."

"The 174th has the smoothest running MQ-9 operation in the United States," said Parry. "It's not just rhetoric either, it's true. The work being done is cutting edge."