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Air Force to add more drones at Hancock Field, nearly doubling number of Reaper pilots trained there

A MQ-9 Reaper taxis back onto Hancock Field after a successful takeoff and landing at Hancock International Airport in Syracuse, N.Y., on Dec. 16, 2015.

JEREMY CALL/U.S. AIR FORCE

By MARK WEINER | Syracuse Media Group | Published: March 16, 2019

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — The U.S. Air Force has decided to expand its squadron of MQ-9 Reaper drones based at the home of the 174th Attack Wing at Syracuse's Hancock Field.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson approved sending an extra four aircraft, two mobile ground control stations and new training equipment to the New York Air National Guard base.

The new drones and equipment are expected to arrive as early as this month, according to U.S. Rep. John Katko, whose office was informed of the decision by Air Force officials on Thursday.

Air Force officials told Katko that the new aircraft and equipment will allow the base to almost double the number of Reaper drone pilots and sensor operators trained at Hancock Field from 45 to 85 per year.

The Air Force will spend $23.7 million combined for the upgrades at Hancock Field and March Air Reserve Base in California, which also will receive four new aircraft and mobile ground control stations.

The 174th Attack Wing uses the Hancock Field base north of Syracuse to remotely pilot MQ-9 Reaper drones on combat and surveillance missions over Afghanistan.

The Air National Guard base was the first in the nation to operate Reaper drones, and the first to receive permission to take off and land at a commercial airport, Syracuse Hancock International Airport.

The base also serves as an Air Force maintenance and training facility for drone crews. Those crews maintain a squadron of eight Reaper drones at Hancock Field.

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