Drone’s successful landing spurs hopes for additional defense, rescue uses

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ROME — With sunny skies and gusty winds, members of the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing and city officials witnessed the successful landing of an MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft on the runway of Griffiss International Airport Thursday morning.

The remotely piloted aircraft landed without traditional logistical support on the ground. Previously a ground control unit was required to launch and land the MQ-9.

Col. William McCrink, commander of the 174th Attack Wing based at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, explained following the landing and demonstration that it was the first time the MQ-9 flew from Syracuse and landed at Griffiss Park, or any other landing strip that wasn’t its home base. This was thanks to some software upgrades, he said.

McCrink said the launch and recovery formerly required logistic and ground support, but Thursday’s operation reduced that footprint, requiring only a small maintenance crew and some minor equipment to recover the drone. After a couple-hour visit at Griffiss, the MQ-9 was due to fly back to Syracuse.

“This is a first for us, so I wanted to be out here on this historic day,” said Col. McCrink about his visit to Rome.

The demonstration showed the MQ-9 to be more agile and dynamic, by flying the MQ-9 from airfields without the traditional ground logistical support. Previously the aircraft was launched and landed using direct line-of-sight technology and flown remotely by a satellite link, which limited the places the MQ-9 could operate from.

The system was tested in 2021 by the Air Force at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, but this was the first time an MQ-9 launched from a civilian airport, in this case Syracuse International Airport, and landed remotely at another civilian airport.

McCrink said the technology demonstrated Thursday shows how the drone’s agility and dynamics have greatly improved, giving defense operations the ability to get into places overseas it once couldn’t get into, which is “bad for adversaries.” As for domestic operations, McCrink said the MQ-9 can assist in tracking the fire line of California wildfires and identify hot spots from the air.

“We actually had crews from New York go to California to support those efforts,” he added.

If there is a major hurricane, or some kind of search-and-rescue effort in the Adirondack Mountains, for example, McCrink said the drone could assist in searching for survivors and assessing damage.

Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo said it was not just an exciting day for the New York Air National Guard and Griffiss Park, but for the entire city.

As for the MQ-9 landing, “We hope they come to this airport a lot,” Izzo said. “Our city has had a long history of involvement with the Air Force, and the deployment of new technology...We hope they make Griffiss International Airport a regular stop and do more training here.”

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