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The Reapers are Coming

Sunday, 13 March 2016 19:13 Written by 

 

The Reapers are Coming 

By Kris Wadolkowski, CFI

 

We’ve seen them on the news in action over Iraq and Afghanistan, now they’re coming to a neighborhood near you.  They are the MQ-9 Reapers.  Reapers are Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) used for surveillance and strike.  This summer, training operations for the MQ-9 are moving to March ARB.  Until now, this training has been conducted in restricted airspace in the high desert but these operations will now originate from March ARB.


The MQ-9 Reaper:   Their paint scheme intentionally makes them hard to see.

This means that there will be unmanned aircraft taking off from and landing at March as they fly to and from their training area in the R2515 complex. 

The MQ-9 Reaper is a larger turbine version of the well-known Predator and we have been told us that they typically fly at about 115 kts although they are advertised as being much faster.  They have transponders and will be squawking a discrete transponder code but they are not equipped with ADSB.  It is important to understand that they have no see and avoid capability and they will be escorted to and from the training area by manned aircraft (unmarked GA types) that will trail them and act as their see and avoid capability.  Since the MQ-9s are operating beyond line of sight they will be controlled via their (K band) satellite link which has approximately a two second delay between the controller’s input and the aircraft response.  The chase aircraft don’t have direct control but need to relay messages to the RPA controller who then inputs the command to the MQ-9 which, two seconds later, responds.  (It reminds me a bit of the way ships used to avoid ice bergs by putting a sailor in the crow’s nest who would shout warnings to the bridge if he saw anything.  The system worked more or less OK but occasionally not so much).  The Reapers will be using the ’Wolf Skill VFR Departure’ to fly to and from R2515 (see map below). 

 

The safety folks at March advise that if we’re flying in their vicinity and especially between March and the high desert we should be talking to them (two way radio communications are mandatory to enter the Class C airspace).  Sectionals will be updated to show the hazard.  One final note, these aircraft have a lost comms mode where they go into a holding pattern while they attempt to re-establish the com link.  This pattern will be a circular track to the north east of March (apparently it overflies only one farm building).

 

Lost Comms Orbit: The Reaper will fly this track in the event that communications are lost

Finally, keep in mind that there is other traffic at March.  They keep a couple of F-16s on standby for intercept missions and there are C-17 transport ops as well as parachute ops to the south.  

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  • John

    I routinely fly up to Redlands. I overfly the March class C and the timing for starting the descent works perfectly after you are clear of their airspace. It also puts me in the path of these. I always use flight following, but never enter their airspace (ie dont talk with March AFB). I am assuming SoCal will have these on their radar and be able to give traffic advisories? Thanks for sharing this. Anything else I should be doing? Will these flights get detailed in a preflight briefing with timing or just as a general advisory? Thanks again!

    from San Diego, CA, USA

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