FORT DRUM, N.Y. - The New York Air National Guard's 174th Attack Wing has a new base for its MQ-9 "Reaper" operations at Fort Drum's Wheeler Sack Army Airfield.
The wing's $5.19 million Launch and Recovery Element hangar, which was finished in September, was officially opened Nov. 5 by New York Air National Guard Commander Maj. Gen. Verle Johnston and New York Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Patrick Murphy.
The hangar provides space to house and maintain two of the four MQ-9 aircraft the wing bases at Wheeler Sack.
The new hangar took nine months to build and uses green technology to keep heating costs down in northern New York's harsh winters. This includes in-floor heating, translucent panels to bring in natural light, a solar hot water heater and solar collector panels built into the walls, which allow the sun to help heat the building.
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo praised the new facility.
"This new hangar is a real asset in improving the training and operations of the New York Air National Guard at Fort Drum," Cuomo said.
"This permanent facility provides the 174th Attack Wing with enough space to shelter its aircraft and more effectively train service members from across the country for overseas operations and domestic emergencies. As the major storms from the last few years have shown us, the National Guard is vital to New York State in responding to a natural disaster," the governor said.
"Furthermore, this green facility will also reduce the use of energy to save taxpayer dollars in the long run, exemplifying our state's goal to dramatically increase energy efficiency in the next several years. The completion of this project will result in a stronger Fort Drum and enhance the security of our nation," Cuomo added.
The 174th, the only attack wing in the total Air Force, began flying the MQ-9 remotely piloted vehicle in 2009. The last two F-16s flown by the wing left Syracuse in 2010.
The 174th trains MQ-9 maintainers at its Field Training Detachment at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse and uses Wheeler Sack Army Airfield to train MQ-9 pilots and sensor operators at its Formal Training Unit. The MQ-9 crews practice takeoff and landings from the airfield and drop live and inert munitions at the air-ground range the wing operates at Fort Drum.
The first Formal Training Unit class graduated in February 2012.
The 174th Attack Wing has been operating the MQ-9 at Fort Drum since 2009 and has been using hangar space belonging to the 10th Mountain Division‘s 10th Combat Aviation Brigade. This space did not allow enough hangar space to shelter all aircraft needed for flying operations and conduct routine maintenance on the aircraft.
The unit also flies MQ-9s in the skies above Afghanistan from an operations center at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base.
The new hangar is the first step in a series of Air National Guard building projects planned for Wheeler Sack Army Airfield. The 174th Attack Wing plans to build a second hangar in the coming year to support launch and recovery operations that will allow MQ-9 operations to move completely out of the Army facilities.
The new hangar and plans to build another one shows that the New York Air National Guard is dedicated to a long-term relationship with the Army and Fort Drum, Johnston said.
"We're going to be operating out of here as long as any of us are around," he told reporters.
"This compound will ensure we provide realistic training for all of the aircrew members that go through our schoolhouse," said Lt. Col. Michael Smith, Commander of the 174th Maintenance Group. "This is critical based on the fact when they roll out of here they jump right into combat and our flying missions supporting our ground troops overseas."
The next step in the 174th's transition to full-up MQ-9 operations is to fly the aircraft directly from Hancock Field. That should occur next summer, said Col. Greg Semmel, the 174th Attack Wing commander.
Even when the MQ-9s are flying from the wing's main base, though, there will be the need for the Fort Drum location as an alternate landing and launching site and a training area, he said.
"As we put the aircrew through the training where they drop either live or inert munitions and we don't do that out of Syracuse, so we'll always have airplanes up here to be able to do that," Semmel explained.