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RPA prophecy fulfilled, oldest RPA squadron celebrates 20 years

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nadine Y. Barclay
  • 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The end of World War II one man's prophecy set the stage for modern day of aviation.

General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold made a startling prediction: "We have just won a war with a lot of heroes flying around in planes. The next war may be fought by airplanes with no men in them at all...."

Although the bold vision of pilotless aircraft fighting America's wars was premature, Arnold's prophecy is coming true as the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, celebrates its 20th anniversary flying remotely piloted aircraft.

On July 29, 1995, the 11th RS was activated at the then Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field, Nevada, as the Air Force's first dedicated RPA unit when it assumed operational control of the medium altitude, long endurance RQ-1 Predator aircraft.

"I am very proud of my Airmen," said Lt. Col. Leland Cowie, 11th RS commander. "Both those conducting our critical mission in garrison and those currently deployed in harm's way flying RPAs."

Since conducting the first flight of the Predator on Dec. 13, 1996, the 11th RS has seen many firsts to include: the first successful deployment of a Hellfire missile, the first lost aircraft during an engagement between an RPA and a manned aircraft while enforcing the No Fly Zone in Iraq, and the relinquishment of its direct combat support role to become the Air Force's first Predator formal training unit.

Today the 11th RS is responsible for conducting all MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper aircrew launch and recovery initial qualifications training, as well as operator upgrade training and trains an average of 360 Airmen annually.

"What I have learned to do here is important to me because you can't put a price tag on saving a life," said Senior Airman Shantae, 11th RS instructor sensor operator.

"This is a highly demanding job that requires a lot of professionalism. People depend on you, lives depend on you."

The 11th RS can trace its lineage back 73 years to the activation on March 2, 1942 of the 11th Observation Squadron by the U.S. Army Air Forces at Wheeler-Sack Field, New York.

"We've only scratched the surface with RPAs," said James Clark, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Innovation director. "So from World War I RPAs to World War II to Desert Storm to Vietnam, we are at the beginning of a revolution, it's exciting and Creech is the home of this revolution."

Since then it was also the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron for fighter aircraft and the 11th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron where it joined the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, which would later become the 432nd Wing at Creech AFB, Nevada.

The mission on the 11th RS is to instill the Airmanship required to make critical decisions in unforgiving phases of flight enabling remotely piloted airpower for the joint force commanders at any time and place across the globe.

"What we do here every day is vital to the mission downrange," said Col. Case Cunningham, 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander. "Today is a great day as we celebrate 20 years of making history and you and your Airmen should be proud."

Although decades have passed since Arnold's initial prediction his words still ring true as the Airmen of the RPA enterprise continue to make unprecedented strides in modern day aviation.

"Take everything you've learned about aviation in war, throw it out of the window, and let's go to work on tomorrow's aviation," said Arnold. "It will be different from anything the world has ever seen."