163rd Reconnaissance Wing To Train Next Generation Of UAV
Having successfully surpassed two
years of combat operations flying the MQ-1 Predator, the nation's
first Air National Guard Predator unit is poised to spread its
history-making wings again. With only minor details remaining, the
163rd Reconnaissance Wing is ready to begin training the Air
Force's next generation of unmanned aerial system warriors.
Beginning in early January, the unit expects to fly its first
"live" training sortie at home from the former George Air Force
Base -- now known as Southern California Logistics Airport in
Victorville, about 40 miles from March.
"We are really excited about taking this critical next step in
our employment of the Predator," said Air Force Col. Randall Ball,
163rd Operations Group commander. "We've been working toward this
since getting the Predator mission in 2006, and it has taken a
total team effort to go from concept to reality as quickly as we
Since transitioning from its support mission flying the KC-135
Stratotanker to conducting active combat flying the Predator, the
wing has proven it has the mettle to meet any challenge head-on. In
fact, shortly after beginning Predator flight operations, the wing
was charged to provide three continuous combat air patrols over
As a result of the "surge," the wing has amassed more than
21,000 flying hours supporting combat operations overseas by
providing combatant commanders with 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week
aerial surveillance and precision strike capability.
"This has truly been an historic event for us," Air Force Col.
Al Aimar, 163rd RW commander, said. "It's been quite an exciting
time, and we're eager to begin the next chapter in this remarkable
Once the facilities and infrastructure needed to support the
flying program at SCLA are in place, the wing will begin flying the
Predator locally in preparation for its first class of Predator
aviators, scheduled to begin in April.
"We need to make sure we take a steady approach to starting the
flight training program here so we can ensure we are training the
best Predator pilots possible, able to step out of the classroom
and into the combat theater providing the kind of support
commanders need and have come to expect," Air Force Lt. Col. Kirby
Colas, 196th Reconnaissance Squadron commander, said.
Initially, the wing will begin training Air National Guard
personnel as Predator aircrews, but the program is expected to
expand to include training active-duty aviators as well relieving
some of the load for Creech Air Force Basein Nevada, currently the
only base training Predator aircrews.
Since the wing already has extensive experience with the
platform, providing the training to both Guard and active-duty
aircrews is expected to be a smooth process. In fact, several of
the unit's current senior-level pilots and sensor operators already
have gained valuable experience in the academic environment, having
served as instructor pilots and sensor operators at Creech.
"Our wing is really a unique organization," Aimar said. "We've
gone through a tremendous amount of change over the past couple
years, but the amazing thing is nobody complains. Every time a new
mission or task has come up, everyone across the wing was quick to
jump in to figure out how we could get it done. As a commander, it
makes me proud to see that kind of dedication, not only to our
nation, but to the warfighters on the ground, who rely on our
support to accomplish their missions."
Currently, the wing conducts Predator maintenance training in
its recently established state-of-the-art field training detachment
operating under Creech's Detachment 13 as part of Air Education and
Training Command. The fully accredited maintenance training
facility trains active-duty and Guard Predator maintenance
(Aero News salutes Air Force Capt. Al Bosco, with the
California National Guard.)