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U.S., British Reaper operations combined in Afghanistan

by Tech. Sgt. James Law
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

5/8/2008 - BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (AFPN) -- Since taking flight for the first time here in October 2007, Reapers have flown more than 320 missions and 2,400 combat hours throughout Afghanistan, providing close-air support and precision engagement.

The unit contributing to this effort is the 42nd Expeditionary Attack Squadron, a combined unit with Reapers from the U.S. and the British Royal Air Forces.

"It's awesome working with the 'Brits,'" said Maj. John Myers, the 42nd EATKS commander. "We work well together.

"We have split crews. We have a British pilot and an American sensor operator and another crew is an American pilot and a British sensor operator," said Major Myers. "We are truly integrated, even down to the crew level."

The expeditionary unit pilots the unmanned aircraft during launch and landing on a flightline in Afghanistan and turns control of the Reaper over to personnel at Creech after it has reached altitude, Major Myers said.

"Our main mission is to launch and recover airplanes that are flown primarily from the states from the mission control element," Major Myers said. "The units we support at Creech are the 42nd Attack Squadron and the 39th Squadron, which is an RAF squadron."

Although the unit's inventory consists of aircraft from both countries, there is no distinction between which Reapers the pilots fly.

"From here I fly both the American airplanes and the British ones," said Flight Lieutenant Swainston, a RAF MQ-9 pilot. "I enjoy it."

The relationship between the two air forces is symbiotic, he said.

"It's great working along side another nation; we get to see how two different doctrines approach the same airframe," Flight Lieutenant Swainston said. "The Brits get to see how the Americans operate and the Americans get to see how the Brits operate."

In addition to piloting the aircraft during take off and landing, the 42nd EATKS also provides air-base defense and close-air support for units in the vicinity.

Larger and more powerful than the MQ-1 Predator, the Reaper is designed to go after time-sensitive targets with persistence and precision, and destroy or disable them.

"I can tell you it's not unmanned; it's a lot of work," said Major Myers. "But the reward is great. Other than being in the cockpit and being out over the battlefield, this is the next best thing...being here."

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