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RPA Innovation

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Chase Cannon
  • 49th Wing Public affairs

The RQ-1 predator, later designated as the MQ-1, was the right aircraft, at the right time following the events of September 11, 2001.

While the nation was recovering from the largest attack in its history since the bombings of Pearl Harbor, members of the Pentagon prepared for a war that they already knew would present new challenges that the Department of Defense had not faced before.

“We were able to arm the Predator at a critical time,” said retired Gen. John Jumper, former U.S. Air Force chief of staff. “There is no other single enterprise in the Air Force that has produced results like [Remotely Piloted Aircraft].”

Even though the arming of RPAs is standard practice for current operations, it was not always the clear choice.

“I had to kick down doors,” Jumper said. “If it had not been a four star general it never would have happened.”

One of the biggest obstacles while trying to accomplish the goal of arming the RQ-1 was the fear that the exhaust from the missile would blow the propeller off of the aircraft.

“We propped it on a stand on top of a mountain and aimed it at a target down in a valley, turned on the motor to see if it would blow the propeller off,” Jumper said.

The successful arming of the Predator was the first step in a series of events that led the RPA community to where it is today.

“There have been several milestones, I think the one that probably made the biggest difference was when we were able to put the Hellfire missile on the Predator,” Jumper said. “We were able to do that at a critical time and have that capability matured by the time we started dealing with the [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] crisis.”

The culmination of Jumper’s vision has led to the constant use of RPAs by the DOD all over the world.

“The arming has probably made the biggest single difference that we have had so far, and I think that it has paid off in many ways,” Jumper said. “We are now carrying 500 pound bombs on the MQ-9 Reaper and that’s a big change.”

Jumper has been tirelessly pushing for the advancement of RPAs for years, and can be cited as a major advocate for their use.

“Retired Gen. John Jumper has been a leading advocate for remotely piloted aircraft since the 1990s when he was a three star general,” said Col. Houston Cantwell, 49th Wing commander. “He has been the strongest force behind the continued advancement of these technologies.”

RPAs are still advancing, with new innovations every year.

“These systems are going to be around for a while,” Jumper said. “We have got to be able to capitalize on the most precious thing we have with these vehicles, and that’s persistence. It is not payload, it is not speed, we have got aircraft that do that better. What we do have is persistence. Staying airborne for a long period of time, how do we make that better? Well, we build the next generation of these [technologies].”