mq-9 reaper
A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper awaits maintenance Dec. 8, 2016, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. The Air Force is set to retire the MQ-1 Predator and transition solely to the more capable MQ-9 in early 2018 to keep up with the continuously evolving battlespace environment.
(Photo by U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Christian Clausen)

Goodbye, MQ-1. Hello, MQ-9. That’s right, the Air Force has announced it will retire the MQ-1 Predator drone in early 2018 and fly the MQ-9 Reaper exclusively in order to “keep up with the continuously evolving battlespace environment,” the service said in a statement.

The MQ-1 has been flown in combat for the past 21 years. The MQ-9, which has 10 years of service under its belt, is better equipped to help the Air Force stay in the fight due to increased speed, high-def sensors and the ability to carry more munitions.

Current areas of responsibility call upon combat RPAs (Remotely Piloted Aircraft) to be used for “more precise close air support engagements,” as opposed to years past when they were used solely for intelligence gathering and real-time reconnaissance, the Air Force said.

That’s where the MQ-9 comes in.

According to UPI, the MQ-9 Reaper boasts a 3,750-pound payload capacity, a 50,000-foot flight ceiling and can reach cruising speeds around 230 miles per hour. That’s a significant upgrade from the MQ-1, which has a 450-pound payload capacity, a flight ceiling of 25,000 feet and can reach cruising speeds around 84 miles per hour.

Both aircraft are manufactured by General Atomics.

Right now, the 20th Attack Squadron at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri is making the transition to the MQ-9.

“The plan is to stop flying the MQ-1 in 2018, and that means we need to get transitioned this year,” said Lt. Col. James, 20th Attack Squadron commander. “As part of that we are going to stop flying the MQ-1 completely by July 1, 2017. We will gradually stand up our number of combat lines on the MQ-9, so by the end of the year we are only an MQ-9 squadron.”

“We’re hitting a home run by going to the MQ-9,” James added. “We have made a difference.”

MQ-9 Specs

Primary function: find, fix, and finish targets
Contractor: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.
Power plant: Honeywell TPE331-10GD turboprop engine
Thrust: 900 shaft horsepower maximum
Wingspan: 66 feet (20.1 meters)
Length: 36 feet (11 meters)
Height: 12.5 feet (3.8 meters)
Weight: 4,900 pounds (2,223 kilograms) empty
Maximum takeoff weight: 10,500 pounds (4,760 kilograms)
Fuel capacity: 4,000 pounds (602 gallons)
Payload: 3,750 pounds (1,701 kilograms)
Speed: cruise speed around 230 mph (200 knots)
Range: 1,150 miles (1,000 nautical miles)
Ceiling: Up to 50,000 feet (15,240 meters)
Armament: combination of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, GBU-12 Paveway II and GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions
Crew (remote): two (pilot and sensor operator)
Unit cost: $64.2 million (includes four aircraft, sensors, GCSs, and Comm.) (fiscal 2006 dollars)
Initial operating capability: October 2007

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