174th Attack Wing aircraft takeoffs, landings no longer need ‘chase plane’ at Hancock Field

Local News

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Syracuse’s 174th Air National Guard Attack Wing has hit a major milestone with its MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft.

The MQ-9 flying into and out of Syracuse’s Hancock International Airport are no longer accompanied by piloted airplanes, thanks to the recent installation of a military Ground Based Detect and Avoid Radar system.

The system allows for safer and more effective training missions flown by the wing’s aircraft.

“This radar system enhances the safety of the wing’s MQ-9 aircraft and helps prevent collisions with commercial air traffic,” says New York Air National Guard Colonel Michael Smith, 174th Attack Wing Commander.

The installation of the Ground Based Sense and Avoid system in August now meets the FAA requirement of a comprehensive collision avoidance system.

Smith tells NewsChannel 9, “This is the first of five systems that are identified, so this will become a program of record and it will be distributed to five other (Air National Guard) units throughout the United States.”

The 174th installed it’s own SRC built radar at Hancock field, tied it in with other FAA radars out there and then send all the data to servers at the base to be analyzed and tied together.

Smith explains, “Then we provide a picture to the pilot that’s flying it and it also gives warnings, both visual and audio warnings, to say ‘hey there’s a conflict here’ and tells us what to do.”

The Detect and Avoid Radar System provides current air traffic data directly to MQ-9 aircrews while flying into and out of the local airspace surrounding Syracuse’s Airport.

The system uses existing radars to locate nearby aircraft, including those not tracked by FAA systems, according to a statement from the system developers at the Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Previously, the MQ-9 had required an escort from a manned Civil Air Patrol airplane while transitioning up to and from 18,000 feet.

The escort for the MQ-9 provided enhanced safety for the Federal Aviation Administration, which required the remotely piloted aircraft to first operate with a level of safety equal to a manned aircraft before approving unrestricted flight operations.

These restrictions inhibited aircrew training and degraded the wing’s flexibility to respond with aircraft quickly during federal or state missions, requiring unplanned Civil Air Patrol flights when unscheduled flights were needed.

The new ground-based radar system not only eliminates the escort requirement, but adds additional flexibility and efficiency to all MQ-9 training missions, Smith says.

Previously, the chase aircraft from the Civil Air Patrol was the only additional sensor for the remotely piloted crews avoid other air traffic.

The new radar system provides the New York Air National Guard with an affordable, scalable and transportable sense and avoid system for the MQ-9, Smith says.

He estimates it could save the 174th about $500,000 a year it was spending on the “chase planes”.

The Syracuse’s Ground Based Detect and Avoid (GBDAA) Radar System is the first of its kind for the Department of Defense operations of MQ-9 aircraft. It is a potential template for other airports or military installations using remotely piloted aircraft, Smith says.

The 174th Attack Wing provides more than 4,000 flight training hours each year to qualify pilots and sensor operators, and the Syracuse GBDAA system supports the safe and efficient execution of those flights, he added.

Smith adds it will allow them to train more students crews and will mean they’ll nearly double from three to five daily missions they’ll fly from Hancock Field.

The wing also trains all MQ-9 maintenance technicians for the Air Force, Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve.

At the same time, the wing deploys members oversees to support MQ-9 operations and other Air Force commitments.

The 174th Attack Wing was the first unit to fly a remotely piloted aircraft in class “C” airspace surrounding civilian airport when it began operations at Syracuse’s Hancock International Airport in December 2015.

Check out some photos of the drones out at Hancock International:

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