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Reaper takes flight at Holloman

by Airman 1st Class Sondra Escutia
49th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

10/9/2009 - HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFNS) -- The first MQ-9 Reaper to arrive here made its first local flight Oct.1, expanding the capacity for the remotely piloted vehicle formal training unit here.

Instructors from the 432nd Operations Group, Det. 3, conducted the first flight, while members from the 432nd Maintenance Group, Det. 1, maintained the aircraft.

However, Lt. Col. James Merchant, Det. 3 commander, said this achievement was the result of a great effort by the entire base.

"There were plenty of hurdles along the way, but everyone maintained focus, looked at the individual steps, from power and connections to pattern deconfliction and scheduling," Colonel Merchant said. "Everyone kept moving in a positive direction."

Members of the Reaper FTU have been preparing for this first flight for nearly a year, but only recently reached a fully operational capacity with the arrival of the first aircraft and qualified crew.

"The first flight is ... the first step to becoming independent of another base and wing to do our takeoff and landing," Colonel Merchant said. "Ultimately, it results in more flexibility for us as well, as we will be the only user of the aircraft."

Currently, students enrolled in the FTU are trained with aircraft launched from Creech Air Force Base, Nev., using satellite relays to pick up the Reaper for a total of 18 hours per day. Once Holloman AFB has qualified crews and enough aircraft, the squadron will be able to launch and recover the Reaper themselves.

"From now until we get our second aircraft in December, we will be flying a local line intermittently to build a cadre of qualified launch and recovery crews," Colonel Merchant said.

The squadron is slated to receive its third and fourth aircraft in January 2010.

On Oct. 23, the 432nd OG, Det. 3, will become the 29th Attack Squadron, and the 432nd MXG, Det. 1, will become the 849th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, both of which will fall under the 49th Fighter Wing.

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