Remotely piloted drones no longer accompanied by piloted planes flying into Hancock Field thanks to new radar system

Local News

A U.S. MQ-9 drone is on display during an air show at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

HANCOCK FIELD AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) Remotely Piloted MQ-9 Aircraft flying into and out of Syracuse 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, employed by the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing allows for safer and more effective training missions flown by the wing’s MQ-9 Reaper aircraft.

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

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

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, he said.

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 International Airport, an unprecedented safety enhancement for pilots to see and avoid other airplanes over Central New York, Smith said.

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. Data from these radars are processed and prioritized to then issue alerts to MQ-9 pilots compute the optimal avoidance maneuver.

This arrangement provides critical sense-and-avoid services to the MQ-9 flight operations without requiring the remotely piloted airplane to carry any additional equipment.

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

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 said.

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.

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 International Airport in December 2015.

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