The US Air Force has reported that for the first time ever, a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) from Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, US, has supported an interstate search and rescue (SAR) mission. The aircraft, an MQ-9 ‘Reaper’ from the 29th Attack Squadron (ATKS), was used in SAR mission due to the RPA’s flying and survey ability, said Maj. Dustin (last name withheld), 29th ATKS assistant director of operations.
RPAs have very long endurance, which means they can stay airborne for many hours. This gives operators the capability to provide reconnaissance and SAR support, said Lt Col Jonathan (last name withheld), 29th ATKS director of operations.
This is the first time an RPA has been allowed to fly outside of Holloman’s Federal Aviation Administration approved airspace to support a SAR mission. Maj. Dustin explained: “To be able to fly in the national airspace, there is a lot of co-ordination that has to take place to allow this to happen. The state police were first to initiate the search and rescue, and then we received the word from Air Combat Command that Holloman could be tasked to help. As soon as the approval came, the 29th ATKS had plans ready and people [en] route to support this mission.”
Federal and local organisations came together to work towards finding these individuals. The combined SAR team was able to locate the individuals within a matter of hours from the start of this search.
Dustin said: “My tasking as the pilot was to scan the surrounding area where the individuals were suspected to be along the river. It was a great team effort and everybody played an important role in this rescue.”
The 29th ATKS said the mission demonstrated that the training they are doing at Holloman can support real-world missions. Dustin said: “I think this is a big step forward to show that we have the capabilities to extend ourselves outside our normal flying ranges, and in this case, to support these important humanitarian missions.”