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Predator passes 400,000 flight hours

An MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft system taxies down a runway at Creech AFB, Nev., Aug. 13. The MQ-1 Predator recently passed 400,000 flight hours during missions over Iraq and Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Larry Reid)

An MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft system taxies down a runway at Creech AFB, Nev., Aug. 13. The MQ-1 Predator recently passed 400,000 flight hours during missions over Iraq and Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Larry Reid)

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. (AFPN) -- The MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft system surpassed 400,000 flight hours during a mission in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility Aug. 18.

Members of the 15th Reconnaissance Squadron, part of the 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., flew the milestone mission in support of continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"15th Reconnaissance Squadron personnel have been involved with every major operation in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom since the inception of combat operations," said Lt. Col. Robert Kiebler, the 15th RS commander.

"Every day our people have a direct and lasting impact on combat operations in the AOR," said Colonel Kiebler. "They provide critical (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) to ground commanders, enable the tracking, capture and death of enemy insurgents and provide lifesaving overwatch to coalition forces."

Declared operational in 1995, the Predator's primary mission is to provide armed reconnaissance, airborne surveillance and target acquisition to commanders in the field. The Predator can be armed with two laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and carries the Multispectral Targeting System, which integrates electro-optical, infrared, laser designator and laser illuminator into a single sensor package.

This combination of capabilities has made the Predator a lethal and nimble platform, said Col. Chris Chambliss, the 432nd AEW commander.

"Technology today is allowing us to take aviation capabilities to new levels, and the Predator is a perfect example of how UAS support is making a difference in the fight," Colonel Chambliss said. "The aircraft's armed reconnaissance capabilities provide our ground forces the unblinking eye that can also engage hostile targets either on its own or in combination with manned aircraft like the F-16 Fighting Falcon. If that's not an awesome weapons system, I don't know what one is."

The Predator fleet passed 250,000 hours in June 2007 after 12 years of flying, but took only 14 months to fly the additional 150,000 hours after continuous demand for the aircraft by combatant commanders.

The high demand has led to a "surge of production" at the 703rd Aeronautical Systems Group at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in order to meet a requirement for 31 combat air patrols by April 2009, said Col. Christopher Coombs, the 703rd AESG commander.

"The warfighter can't get enough Predator time," Colonel Coombs said. "The 703rd has been performing heroics fielding more than 165 MQ-1s since 1998, multiplying MQ-1's global reach through remote split operations, expanding its role to 'killer' by incorporating Hellfire missiles, surging production to meet an 2009 31-CAP requirement and accelerating the original plan of 21 CAPs by 2010. We broke through 200,000 hours in 2006, 300,000 in 2007, and now cruising past 400,000 hours at a clip of about 14,000 hours a month."

Colonel Chambliss said the flight hours are high for a simple reason -- ground forces need Predator support.

"This milestone only serves to illustrate the 432nd Wing's absolute obligation to our ground forces," he said. "Four hundred thousand flight hours is a huge number, and it takes thousands of men and women here at Creech and our Air National Guard partners at their bases grinding it out to continue to fight over Iraq and Afghanistan every hour of every day."

The success of the Predator in combat is a credit to the Airmen who fly, operate and maintain it, said Lt. Gen. Norman R. Seip, the 12th Air Force commander.

"It takes great skill to operate the most persistent strike, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform in the world," General Seip said. "The men and women of the 432nd Wing have proved time and again that they are the most qualified for the job, which is why the Predator remains one of the most sought-after assets in the war on terrorism."

Colonel Chambliss said 400,000 hours is just another stepping stone in what will be a long and distinguished career for the aircraft.

"While it's an honor to be a part of such a historic event, this is only one of many more UAS milestones to come," he said.

At their current rate, the Predator will pass 500,000 flight hours in early 2009.

The speed in which the Predator passed 400,000 hours coupled with its high demand and success rate, is indicative of the contributions Airmen are making for CENTCOM every day, said Gen. John D.W. Corley, the commander of Air Combat Command.

"Our Airmen are flying missions 24 hours a day, seven days a week and doing it so well that our combatant commanders are constantly asking for more. And they're getting it," General Corley said. "Thanks to our UAS Airmen, there is no telling, in the space of 400,000 hours, how many servicemembers' lives have been saved, how many insurgents have been taken out and how many attacks against coalition forces have been stopped before they began."

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