Soldiers, airmen and Civilian Employees gathered Tuesday to celebrate the dedication of a new hangar facility at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield. The Launch and Recovery Element Hangar is the newest facility that the New York Air National Guard will use for MQ-9 Reaper training on the airfield.
“Today marks a very special day for the 174th Attack Wing as we celebrate the completion of the first step in a series of construction projects that will help support permanent flying operations here at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield,” said Air Force Maj. Jeffrey Brown, 174th Attack Wing inspector general.
The training facility will enable the 174th Attack Wing to continue preparing airmen to operate and maintain MQ-9 Reapers, which will allow them to support operations in combat and in worldwide operations, Brown added.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Verle L. Johnston Jr., NYANG commander and guest speaker at the ceremony, said the new facility was not only “critical” to MQ-9 Reaper operators and pilots across the Air Force, but being located near Fort Drum’s training ranges offers a tremendous benefit.
“We benefit directly from (the training ranges), and we have a great relationship with the Fort Drum community,” he said. “We have the capability of dropping munitions and using live weap-
ons, and you can’t do that in too many places.”
Aside from having a place for maintainers to work on the aircraft away from the weather and elements, the hangar also provides a secure storage area for the Reapers, Johnston said.
“This is a very important and critical mission in the Air Force. Building appropriate facilities shows commitment to the mission, to the aircraft and to the people who perform the mission,” he said.
Air Force Col. Greg A. Semmel, 174th Attack Wing commander, said the unit began the process of trying to get permanent facilities at Fort Drum for the MQ-9 program in 2008.
“It’s been a long road,” he said. “The wait has been well worth it. We have a beautiful facility here that will (support) our mission with the MQ-9s well into the future as we get better at what we do up here at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield.”
Semmel thanked the construction, design and planning teams, as well as the NYANG, his unit and personnel at Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI).
“The 10th Mountain Division has been there from the beginning, and they’ve worked closely with us to ensure we were successful in this process … of standing up our operations up here,” he said.
The Air Force’s remotely piloted aircraft community achieved a milestone Oct. 22 when it reached 2 million flying hours, Semmel said.
The Air Force began flying remotely piloted aircraft in 1995, when the service introduced MQ-1 Predators to its fleet.
“If you look at the second million hours, they have been accomplished in just the last 31 months of flying operations across the Air Force,” Semmel explained. “That is phenomenal when you think about a flying hour program and all that we do – both to support (combatant commands) in the (area of operations down range) and to train aircrews, pilots and sensor operators back in the United States.”
The 174th Attack Wing has made a significant contribution to the Air Force’s total flying hours. The unit has flown more than 20,000 hours in combat and in training, Semmel added.
“This beautiful new facility brings us the continued capability to add to that 2 million hours in the next couple of years,” he noted. “It continues to enable us to bring the fight to the enemy each and every day – no matter where that is.
“Just as importantly, (the facility) brings us an increased capability to be able to respond when the governor needs us to respond to (emergencies) around the state,” Semmel added.
Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Smith, 174th Attack Wing maintenance group commander, added the facility is the first of two hangars that will support MQ-9 operations at WSAAF.
“It’s an exciting day,” he said. “(The second facility) will truly allow us to operate independently up here. This compound will ensure that we can continue to provide realistic training to all of the aircrew members who go through our schoolhouse.
“This is critical (because) when they roll out of here, they jump right into combat and they’re flying missions supporting our ground troops overseas,” Smith added.