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.