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From heavy lift to RPA: The 107th transitions into the future

A student pilot and sensor operator man the controls of a MQ-9 Reaper in a ground-based cockpit during a training mission flown from Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, Syracuse, New York. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Ricky Best/Released)

A student pilot and sensor operator man the controls of a MQ-9 Reaper in a ground-based cockpit during a training mission flown from Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, Syracuse, New York. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Ricky Best/Released)

NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION -- Since receiving word that the 107th would be converting from the C-130 airframe to the MQ-9 Reaper, Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), the unit has been abuzz with activity as they prepare for the new Close Air Support (CAS) and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) mission.

The first pilot has completed training for the MQ-9 and is now fully certified for the mission.

A new manning document reflecting the MQ-9 mission becomes effective April 1, 2014. A manning document outlines how a wing is organized and how many positions there are for each job. Under the new document, the wing will be reduced by about 200 Airmen.

The most notable change is that there will no longer be a maintenance group, as there will not be physical MQ-9s on the ground here to maintain. Many members with long military careers have, or soon will, retire. Others have transferred to other units so that they can continue flying or working on manned aircraft. Numerous former maintainers are cross-training into new careerfields.

While the unit is undergoing this dynamic change, major components of the wing are remaining the same such as security forces, civil engineering and medics. These functions are deployable and prepared for domestic operation in Western New York and the entire state as called upon by the governor.

"We realize the members are dealing with a lot of stress in the conversion to the new mission," said Col. Robert Kilgore, 107th Airlift Wing Vice Commander. "However, we feel it makes us a key component of a vital Air Force mission. It sets us on a clear path to the future," he said.

The 107th Operations Group is growing from 90 people to more than 220. New positions include RPA pilot, sensor operator, intelligence, cyber transport systems, cyber systems operations, and weather among others.

Airmen are getting on board for the new mission. There is an air of excitement as they prepare to learn new trades working with cutting-edge technology. Job interviews are being held to place the right people in the right jobs.

Construction of a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) is planned to house the new mission operations by 2017. Inside, a ground control station, also called 'The Box,' is where the Reaper is piloted by an officer, while the enlisted sensor operator controls the intelligence collection equipment. A Reaper Operations Center is a separate area in which a mission commander and mission intelligence coordinators work during the flight, overseeing and advising the pilot and sensor operator. Weather and cyber communications experts are also on hand to ensure mission continuity.

"I've been in this unit 20 years. We've been through three conversions. I am very excited to put the 107th in a mission set that will last for decades," said Col. Michael Bank, 107th Operations Group Commander. "We are looking for people who are willing to participate in making history," he said.

The 107th Airlift Wing has been flying the C-130H2 since 2008 when it was associated with the 914th Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve. The two units shared the same runway, aircraft and resources to make a single team. While the association officially ended at the end of 2013, operations and maintenance have an agreement so that 107th aircrew and maintainers can continue to work with the 914th until the end of the fiscal year.

For more information on the MQ-9 Reaper, visit http://www.af.mil/AboutUs/FactSheets/Display/tabid/224/Article/104470/mq-9-reaper.aspx