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Pictures: US Air Force
LOOKS threatening,
ground in Afghanistan to share the ground, both Britain and The team at Creech only
doesn’t it?
vital information. the US decided only trained take charge once the Reaper
And this is the Predator
While the pilot’s engrossed in aircrew should fly the Reaper. is airborne.
MQ-9 – better known as the
flight, the aircrewman keeps an “As aircrew jobs go, this On the ground in Afghanistan,
Reaper – without most of
eye on the Reaper’s sensors – really is at the cutting edge,” there’s a small detachment – a
its payload on the tarmac of
notably a radar which can scour WO Clay enthuses. ‘launch and recovery element’.
Creech Air Force Base outside
the landscape for booby traps “And as we’re celebrating 100 They send the drone up, then
Las Vegas.
and targets, and an electro-
years of naval aviation, it’s quite pass control on to Creech (think
Now what is an American
optical camera.
fitting that Royal Navy aircrew Cape Kennedy handing over to
aircraft at an American Air
The camera is the eye of
and Fleet Air Arm personnel are Houston for a Shuttle mission)
Force Base doing in the pages
the Reaper by day or night, its
involved in operating the latest for the duration of the sortie.
of Navy News?
images can be beamed back
generation of aircraft. When the mission’s done,
Well, let us explain.
both to Creech and to ground
“It really is a privilege for all Nevada hands back over to
It is from here that sailors,
forces in Afghanistan.
of us to be involved in doing a the team in Afghanistan who
Royal Marines and Fleet Air
How good is it? Well,
job which ultimately helps save guide the Reaper safely down
Arm pilots and ground crew
from 20,000ft it’s pretty
lives on the ground.” to earth.
wage the air battle over
straightforward for the camera
to pick up a person on the
Never once do they leave
ground taking a break.
the confines of the Nevada
Not surprisingly, the image
analyst, a trained intelligence
But 7,700 miles away the
expert, pores over these images
robot aircraft they control
(not necessarily those of
unleash missiles and bombs
Taleban taking a break...) to spot
at Taleban targets.
potential targets and features of
We’ve featured the efforts
interest on the ground, briefing
● The Reaper’s electro-optic camera zooms in on a potential target
made by Fleet Air Arm
during a training mission
the aircrew and updating the
squadrons in Afghanistan –
mission plan if necessary.
845, 846 and 847.
Until now, however, we’ve
with a crew of three ‘on board’ that’s another image you can
And if he, the pilot or the
aircrewman sight a danger on
not paid any attention to these
for each mission. scrub.
the ground, Reaper’s eye in the
unmanned aerial vehicles (or
Now if you’re picturing the It requires a ‘crew’ of three
sky also carries a laser, guiding
remotely-piloted aircraft),
sort of radio-controlled aircraft to fly Reaper using cutting-
the aircraft’s bombs or missiles
probably because the handful
you find buzzing around a park edge satellite technology: one
on to their targets.
of British drones are operated
on a summer’s afternoon, erase pilot (the current incumbent
by RAF 39 Squadron.
that image right now. is Lynx pilot Lt Colin Kiernan),
“It really can be quite
And, last time we checked,
Reaper’s the length of a one aircrewman (currently
surreal – when you’re in
we’re not Crab News.
Learjet, has an enormous WO1 Steve Clay, a Merlin ASW
the control room/cockpit,
But in the mixiblob world of
66ft wingspan (a Harrier, for expert by trade) and one image
you’re actually at war, but
today’s Armed Forces, you’re
example, has a mere 25ft), can analyst – either a Royal Marine
the action is 10,000 miles
just as likely to find RN chaps
stay airborne for up to 28 hours or a specialist from the RN
away,” says WO Clay.
on an RAF squadron as vice
(14 fully loaded), costs a ‘mere’ photographic branch.
“You become totally immersed
£6.5m (the next-generation The pilot and aircrewman sit in supporting the guys on the
39 Sqn – whose motto, aptly
Harrier, the Joint Strike Fighter, at a control bank – a cockpit, if ground. The distance from the
is die noctuque (by day and
will set you back at least £50m you like – with all the controls battlespace in no way absolves
night) is no exception.
each), and can deliver a payload you’d typically find on a military us of our responsibility.”
Eight RN personnel are of laser-guided bombs or aircraft, but with six video With the skies of Afghanistan
currently serving with the armour-piercing missiles. display screens replacing the buzzing with Allied air power –
squadron – one pilot, one So, no, this is no toy plane. window. Sea Kings, Apache Chinooks,
aircrewman, three image And if you’re also picturing a The pilot flies the Reaper as Lynx, and Harriers on the British
analysts, two meteorologists bloke stood in a field holding he would fly a typical aircraft, side alone – and the possibility
and an intelligence officer – a small box with a large aerial, chatting with troops on the of things rapidly changing on
● Its payload expended, a Reaper returns from yet another sortie
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