A General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper from Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, landed and took off from Holloman Air Force Base for the first time using a new automated landing and takeoff system without an aircrew present, July 8. The 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron, from Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, launched the aircraft via satellite connection. Meanwhile, the U.S. air Force 49th Operations Group, here, established a backup line-of-site radio connection to the aircraft in the event of an emergency.
Prior to this successful demonstration of a new capability, unmanned aircraft owned by the Air Force had to utilize two means of control: line-of-sight controls for launch and recovery operations at an airfield, and a satellite connection used to conduct missions at any distance.
The MQ-9 from Creech was the first aircraft to land at Holloman without the immediate line-of-sight control of a pilot. It landed on its own – fully automated – with a crew only monitoring its progress.
Initially published ATLC procedures required an MQ-9 to be at the airfield of operation, to taxi down the runway, and have the aircrew electronically mark reference points when the aircraft was physically in position on the runway. This week’s sorties proved that requirement obsolete. The technology and 556 TES-derived tactics are ready today for the aircraft to divert to a foreign field where an MQ-9 has never been before, and there is no longer a requirement for specialized infrastructure to land the Reaper.
As this capability matures and becomes more readily available, the aircrafts will be able to take off and land at any base or location with a runway big enough, just like most manned aircraft. We will no longer need the launch and recovery crews, further reducing deployed footprint requirements, as well as adding the flexibility to land at any base within range of the aircraft, not just where there is a cockpit and pilot waiting. This capability increases the effective areas of the world that MQ-9s can have an operational or strategic impact, to almost everywhere.