FARGO From a top secret building on the Air National Guard base in Fargo, pilots with the North Dakota Air National Guard are flying remotely piloted aircraft around the world.
"Our pilots are currently flying the Predators," said Capt. Penny Ripperger, with the N.D. Air National Guard's 119th Wing Public Affairs in Fargo. "They fly them in areas like Iraq or Afghanistan the Predators are not physically in North Dakota."
"We fly two orbits, 25/7 from Fargo in these areas. To date, (as of Tuesday) the 178th has flown more than 47,728 combat support hours in the Predator. This persistent 'eye in the sky' provides invaluable ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) support to combatant commanders," Ripperger said.
Submitted Photo --
North Dakota Air National Guard members operate the controls of the remotely piloted aircraft ground control station in Fargo June 27, 2007, shown in this photo by Senior Master Sgt. David H. Lipp. This is one of the few photos of the ground control station approved for release.
She said nine airmen from the 178th Reconnaissance Squadron, a unit of the 119th Operations Group, have received a total of 35 Air Achievement Medals.
The first mission was flown remotely from the Fargo Air National Guard base during the week of June 24-30, 2007, Ripperger said.
The leadership of the 119th Wing of the North Dakota Air National Guard includes:
Col. Rick Gibney, 119th Wing commander.
Col. Kent Olson, 119th Wing vice commander.
Lt. Col. Brian Sivertson, 119th Wing Operations Group commander. Sivertson is the commander over both flying squadrons the 177th Airlift Squadron (C-21s) and 178th Reconnaissance Squadron (Predators).
As of Jan. 4, the N.D. Air National Guard had 343 full-time members and 669 traditional members 142 officers and 870 enlisted, said Capt. Penny Ripperger, with 119th Wing Public Affairs.
Grand Forks mission to operate deployed remotely piloted aircraft
GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE - Grand Forks Air Force Base was selected as a proposed location for a new mission, called the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node Mission Control Element, pending the successful completion of an environmental impact statement, said Lt. Col. Karen Platt. Platt is with the Secretary of the Air Force's Public Affairs Office.
The Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force notified the North Dakota congressional delegation of the selection of Grand Forks for the new mission Dec. 16, 2009, Platt said.
Grand Forks AFB's last KC-135 Stratotankers will leave the base late this year.
Platt said the Air Force plan is to transfer the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node Mission Control Element to Grand Forks AFB late this year, with operations scheduled to begin in the spring of 2011.
She said the mission will operate RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 20 remotely piloted aircraft that are deployed to provide support to combatant commanders.
Platt said the addition of this mission "will also serve to jump start the future basing of RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 40 RPAs which are experiencing a delivery delay due to initial operational test and evaluation requirements."
"The Global Hawk Block 20 Battlefield Airborne Communications Node mission coming to Grand Forks AFB is very similar to the N.D. Air National Guard's MQ-1 Predator mission being flown from Fargo," said Col. Robert Becklund, with the Air Force's Unmanned Aerial Systems Task Force in Washington, D.C. Becklund was the commander of the Air National Guard's 119th Wing until December 2009.
"The Global Hawk Mission Control Element is used to operate the RQ-4 Remotely Piloted Aircraft through Remote Split Operations which is essentially the same as how the Predator Ground Control Station operates the MQ-1 RPA using RSO. In both cases, the actual aircraft are forward deployed, then launched and recovered by a separate group of operators. The aircraft are then handed off electronically for command and control by the RSO base in this case Grand Forks for the operational portion of the mission," Becklund said.
About 180 airmen will be coming to Grand Forks AFB this year for the remotely piloted aircraft ground operation.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz will be attending a conference on remotely piloted aircraft in Grand Forks next month.
Schwartz, who visited Minot AFB April 1-2, said he will be attending the conference because the Air Force is going to place some Global Hawks at Grand Forks AFB.
"Remotely piloted aircraft are a growth industry now in our Air Force," Schwartz said.
Schwartz will deliver the keynote speech at the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Action Summit co-hosted by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.,, the University of North Dakota-John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences and the Red River Valley Research Corridor Coordinating Center. The summit will be held in the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.
- Eloise Ogden
She said the pilots attend training at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. "In fact, we had pilots and sensor operators performing the mission from there before we had the Predator Operations Center built here in Fargo," she said.
Other Air Guard units flying remotely piloted aircraft are located in Arizona, California, Nevada, New York and Texas, Ripperger said.
The Predators come under Air Combat Command.
The 119th Wing, better known as the "Happy Hooligans,'' flew fighter planes for many years.
"We stopped flying the F-16s in January 2007," Ripperger said.
"The day we flew the last F-16 off our base, it was also the 60th anniversary of us flying fighter aircraft so it has been quite a transition for us. We've flown other aircraft in the past, but it has always been fighter aircraft until we received our current mission," she said.
The primary mission of the 119th Wing is the 177th Airlift Squadron with the C-21 Lear Jet, 178th Reconnaissance Squadron (MQ-1 Predator operations) and the 219th Security Forces Squadron which is at Minot Air Force Base.
"The 177th Airlift Squadron, which is part of the 119th Operations Group, operates and maintains the C-21 Lear Jet. The C-21s arrived at the 119th Wing in January 2007 for the new mission," Ripperger said.
On Sept. 1, 2007, the 119th Maintenance Squadron took over the maintenance of the aircraft, which had previously been done by civilian contractors, she said.
The 177th squadron took part in the Happy Hooligan's first aircraft deployment to Southwest Asia, Ripperger said. "In only 60 days, from May through July 2009, C-21 aircrew flew 234 sorties amassing 309.9 combat hours while carrying 462 passengers and 3,839 pounds of cargo," she said.
"In fiscal year 2009, the 177th completed 822 sorties with 1,464.1 hours flown in support of Joint Operational Support Aircraft-directed missions. These missions provide airlift to military and civilian dignitaries to airfields throughout the United States," Ripperger said.
In March, the 177th Airlift Squadron was the recipient of a prominent Defense Department honor, the 2009 Joint Operational Support Airlift Center Squadron of the Year award for the Air Force in the small aircraft category. JOSAC is the airlift branch of the U.S. Transportation Command which has its headquarters at Scott AFB, Ill.
This is a major win for the 177th, competing against active duty from all branches of the military and after only two years of having this particular mission, Ripperger said.
The 219th Security Forces Squadron at Minot Air Force Base also is a unit of the North Dakota Air National Guard.
Its members work alongside security forces from the base's 91st Missile Wing to maintain security of the missile wing's 150 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Led by Lt. Col. Tad Schauer, the 219th is one of the newest units at the Minot base.