Creech Airmen team with FAA to provide RPA assets to JTF-Haiti
By Capt. Nathan D. Broshear , 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs
/ Published January 29, 2010
AGUADILLA, Puerto Rico -- After the Jan. 12 earthquake, virtually every U.S. government agency has found a role in assisting the people of Haiti, leading to new partnerships and groundbreaking initiatives. For the first time, Airmen from Creech Air Force Base are partnering with officials from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the Haitian Civil Aviation Administration to fly RQ-1 remotely piloted aircraft from the international airport outside Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, in support of Operation Unified Response.
"The FAA worked very hard to make these missions happen," said Maj. Jeff Bright, the 432nd Wing Detachment commander in Puerto Rico. "Everyone involved in these planning sessions recognized the urgent needs of the Haitian people...(FAA officials) partnered with us to develop flight parameters that allowed us to operate safely and effectively."
For the first flight on Jan. 27, representatives from the FAA observed operations and discussed last minute details with the deployed members of the 432nd Wing. Onlookers from outside the airport crowded the fence line while colleagues from the Coast Guard, airfield managers and nearby cargo operations gathered to watch the small gray aircraft take off.
"For many in the civilian world, there is still a lot of education that has to happen for this to become normal operations," explained Major Bright. "It's my hope that in the near future, these types of systems will become an everyday part of military operations. The support of the local community and the interest by fellow aviation enthusiasts in Puerto Rico has been tremendous."
The process of mixing traditional aircraft with remotely piloted aircraft at Aeropuerto Rafael Hernandez has been seamless so far, thanks to the cooperation of local airfield managers, air traffic controllers and Coast Guardsmen assisting in the deployment, added Major Bright.
"To fly a remotely piloted vehicle is the same as flying a regular aircraft -- we can see the airspace around us, talk to the tower and maneuver in the pattern just as if we were flying in a Cessna 172 or an airliner; ground and radio discipline is the same, as are all the other rules pilots follow...our 'Airmanship' doesn't change once you get into a different type of plane," said Capt. Aaron Zastrow, an RQ-1 pilot with the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron. "Someone is still flying this aircraft at all times, just as if we were sitting inside."
The 432nd Wing Airmen plan to keep operating from Puerto Rico as long as Joint Task Force-Haiti is in need of their unique capability. "We're ready to support Operation Unified Response as long as it takes," said Captain Zastrow.
Later this week, the maintainers and aircrew hope to host a subject matter exchange with military and Coast Guard members in Puerto Rico to share information on the capabilities of remotely piloted vehicles.