Today my travels took me to Nevada’s Creech Air Force Base, where I was among a group of policymakers and aviation officials invited by Major General Marke Gibson to get up close to some amazing technology and the pilots who fly it.
Creech is home to Predators and Reapers, two varieties of unmanned aircraft at work in Iraq and Afghanistan. Used for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, as well as the destruction of targets, these planes are piloted by U.S. Air Force personnel 8,000 miles away from the aircraft they fly.
Seeing these planes in the air is pretty impressive, but even more impressive is being inside the “cockpit” at Creech, knowing the topography you are seeing is actually halfway around the world.
Col. Peter “Gunz” Gersten, commander of the 432nd Wing and 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing based at Creech, is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the more than 150 remotely piloted aircraft in this, the Air Force’s first remotely piloted aircraft wing, in existence since 2007. He has more than 2,800 flight hours and more than 400 combat hours, and he was kind enough to show us the operations at Creech. But what do you think he does in his spare time? He flies GA in a Cirrus, of course!
Today I also had the opportunity to see the extraordinary measures our military takes to keep their aircraft out of situations that could put others at risk. Much is being learned from the intense combat operations that have these aircraft sharing airports and airspace with manned aircraft. More work remains before they are integrated into our national airspace system, but rest assured that the Air Force and AOPA agree that safety must be the top priority.