National Air Guard steps closer to flying drones over Syracuse

Ryan Delaney
August 21, 2014

Central New York’s Air National Guard unit is moving closer to launching and landing its drones from Hancock Airfield in Syracuse. Commanders are promising no surveillance of citizens will be carried out.

One of the 174th Attack Wing’s remotely-piloted MQ-9s didn’t take flight Tuesday outside the guard’s hanger on Hancock Airfield. But it did taxi around for a few minutes.

Col. Greg Semmel, commander of the wing, called it a milestone, albeit a small step. Launch and recovery of a drone from Hancock poses new challenges, versus Fort Drum where training flights depart from now.

"That methodical, slow pace: walk before we run, to make sure that all aspects of the flying operations will be safe," he said. "And this is the logical first step, just start slow," says Semmel.

The MQ-9 and its flight crew on the ground will now have to communicate with both civilian and military aircraft and traffic controllers.

Semmel says it will be about five more months before a drone actually takes off in Syracuse. He says the drones that take off at Hancock will never carry weapons. And that they won’t aim their powerful cameras at citizens.

An MQ-9 crashed into Lake Ontario last November on training mission because its navigation system failed in cold weather. Semmel says they haven’t had any issues like that since.

The 174th converted from F-16 fighter jets to MQ-9s in 2009. They’ve been flying continuous support missions over Afghanistan. Semmel says their mission there is primary to provide aerial surveillance and they rarely fire missiles.