BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- (Left to right) Staff Sgt. Jwann Wilson and Staff Sgt. Bryan Larry, remove a Hellfire missile from an MQ-1 Predator after it returned from a mission. The sergeants, of the 46th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, do this so other unit maintainers can perform maintenance on the aircraft. They are deployed from Creech Air Force Base, Nev. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tammie Moore)
BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- Senior Airman Chris Thompson gets ready to refuel an MQ-1 Predator before a mission. The Airman is with the 46th Aircraft Maintenance Unit and deployed from Creech Air Force Base, Nev. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tammie Moore)
BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- Airman 1st Class Frank Miklos uses a heating tool to secure a yaw string on an MQ-1 Predator. The pilot uses the yaw string to determine wind direction. The Airman is with the 46th Aircraft Maintenance Unit and deployed from Creech Air Force Base, Nev. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tammie Moore)
BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- Senior Airman Neal Eastwood uses a heating tool to secure a yaw string on an MQ-1 Predator. The pilot uses the yaw string to determine wind direction. The Airman is with the 46th Aircraft Maintenance Unit and deployed from Creech Air Force Base, Nev. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tammie Moore)
by Staff Sgt. Tammie Moore
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
1/3/2006 - BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- Airmen who maintain the MQ-1 Predator here take great pride in ensuring the unmanned aerial vehicles they look after can keep and eagle eye on what goes on in Iraq.
The 61 Airmen of the 46th Aircraft Maintenance Unit -- and three Royal Air Force Airmen -- keep the Predators flying for the pilots who fly them from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., and Balad.
They ensure the Predators can provide interdiction, surveillance, target acquisition and conduct armed reconnaissance against critical and perishable targets.
"The aircraft's ability to loiter over an area for a long period of time, strike targets and provide real time-video to our Soldiers on the front lines, operational commanders or worldwide through satellite links is in high demand,” said Maj. Joseph Giuliani, officer in charge of the unit.
That job, he said, “keeps our technicians busy around the clock."
The Airmen, who come from a wide variety of specialties, work in unison to reach one key objective -- make certain their Predators are prepared to function at 100 percent during aerial patrols, which frequently last more than 20 hours.
To do that job, the unit has aircraft avionics, tactical aircraft maintenance, weapons, ground communication, aerospace ground equipment and support Airmen, Major Giuliani said.
"These Airmen are responsible for the safe and effective launch and recovery, inspection, servicing and repair of our assigned remotely piloted aircraft."
The Airmen are deployed from Creech Air Force Base, Nev. Some have been here before and others are serving at Balad for the first time.
This unit does not fall under the normal air and space expeditionary force rotation cycle, Major Giuliani said. Predators are “low-density, high-demand assets” -- meaning everyone wants their services. Creech is the only base sending Airmen to fill this role. Some of them deploy twice during a 15-month cycle.
Working in a deployed environment has brought a new perspective to first-timer Airman 1st Class Rachael Hillman, an avionics technician.
"I have learned a lot already about my job and what the plane does," she said. "I had to adjust to the atmosphere and the amount of maintenance that goes on here, compared to back home."
Predators require more maintenance in deployed locations because the missions keep them flying for longer periods of time.
Flowing out the aircraft maintenance to ensure a Predator is available to fly when scheduled is the most challenging part of the job, Major Giuliani said. Lives can depend on the presence of a Predator. So it is important that every aircraft gets off the ground when needed.
"We are very connected with what is happening on the ground outside of the base and the impact we have," Major Giuliani said. "If we can't get an aircraft in the air, it can directly impact other forces on the ground who are counting on us."
Despite the long hours of maintenance work, the job has its rewards.
"I enjoy seeing the role of the Predator in a wartime environment and what it can do," said avionics technician Senior Airman Chris Thompson, who is on his third Balad deployment. "It feels good knowing that my job is directly linked to keeping the base safe and taking out the 'bad guys!'"
Airman Hillman said, "Watching a Predator you just worked on fly off to conduct a mission that could save someone's life is a very rewarding feeling."
The pride unit Airmen feel has had an impact on the unit's leadership.
"Seeing the satisfaction our troops get from their job and knowing that their efforts are helping to bring democracy to Iraq means a lot to me," Major Giuliani said.