Deployed Airmen trailblazers of Reaper world
By Senior Airman Jack Sanders, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 16, 2013
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- Many of the iconic images from military operations are of U. S. Air Force legacy aircraft, such as a C-130 Hercules bringing troops and supplies to austere battlefields or F-15 Eagles streaking across the sky twisting and turning in dogfights and ground attacks.
Generations of Airmen have flown legacy aircraft still in service today. Because of the brave work of those men and women, these airframes are still finely tuned war machines.
Today's Air Force faces advances in computers and war fighting aircraft, including the the F-22 Raptor, the F-35 Lightning II and the remotely piloted MQ-9 Reapers.
At Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, the men and women of the 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron are building the heritage of Reaper Airmen as they develop the institutional knowledge for one of the nation's newer air warfare assets.
"The biggest challenge we face personally from an MQ-9 perspective is that everything is so new - when you're dealing with legacy aircraft like F-16s or C-130s you have that institutional knowledge base," said Capt. Michael Black, 451st EAMXS Reaper Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge. "There's some guys that have worked on F-16s their whole career. They've been in for 25 years and they've worked on nothing but F-16s and the Reapers don't have that."
For generations men and women of the Air Force have upheld a tradition of honor and a legacy of valor. Reaper Airmen wish to instill that tradition and legacy for future generations to come, Black said.
"The Air Force has only been operating the MQ-9s for about six years so there's not the institutional knowledge base here that you'd have with other aircraft," Black said. "There's a lot of tech data, parts data and things of that nature but the legacy knowledge hasn't quite caught up. We're on the forefront of that knowledge. It's the future."
With the future in mind the 451st EAMXS Airmen strive to demonstrate the accomplishments possible with the MQ-9 Reaper. A demonstration made possible through cooperative work between active duty, National Guard and Royal Air Force Airmen .
"If I put the same uniform on everybody, you could go out there at any part of the day and never know there were two active-duty units, three active-guard elements and a UK element out there on the flightline working - it's just seamless," said Master Sgt. Wayne Wood, 451st EAMXS superintendent. "It's actually a beautiful thing to watch. As a supervisor, you always worry about how people are going to mesh and work together when you get down range and they have mastered it over there and it is a beautiful thing."
Wood said their cooperative work has aided in the understanding of RPA use and brought more knowledge to the field.
"I'm new to the RPA world; I've only been working in it for a year now," Wood said. "I'm an F-16 guy by trade and I've been deployed numerous times with the F-16s. It's a great airplane and they're doing great things, but we are very busy and the requirement for what we can provide is insatiable.
"We're constantly putting aircraft back in the fight and you definitely feel like we're making a difference," Wood continued. "But, there are still a lot to come for the RPAs in the future. We don't even understand 100 percent of the capabilities it brings to the table because it's so new. It's very capable, very reliable. We've just scratched the surface. I think in 10 years from now you're going to see faster RPAs, bigger RPAs, doing things 20 years ago would have been unheard of."