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Expeditionary AMU keeps Reapers prowling the skies over Afghanistan

Tech. Sgt. Bobby Domanski, Staff Sgt. Alejandra Uribe and Airman First Class Dustin Robinson, weapons troops with the MQ-9 Aircraft Maintenance Unit, 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, perform maintenance on station pylons on Nov. 3, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Tristan Hinderliter)

Tech. Sgt. Bobby Domanski, Staff Sgt. Alejandra Uribe and Airman First Class Dustin Robinson, weapons troops with the MQ-9 Aircraft Maintenance Unit, 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, perform maintenance on station pylons on Nov. 3, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Tristan Hinderliter)

An MQ-9 Reaper at Kandahar Airfield is loaded with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and a 500-pound GBU-12. The Reaper, maintained by the 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here, is a Remotely Piloted Aircraft. Its primary mission is to hunt and kill the enemy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Tristan Hinderliter)

An MQ-9 Reaper at Kandahar Airfield is loaded with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and a 500-pound GBU-12. The Reaper, maintained by the 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here, is a Remotely Piloted Aircraft. Its primary mission is to hunt and kill the enemy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Tristan Hinderliter)

Tech. Sgt. Joseph Sullivan, an MQ-9 Reaper specialist, performs scheduled maintenance on avionics equipment on Nov. 3, 2012. Sullivan is part of the MQ-9 Aircraft Maintenance Unit, 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Kandahar Airfield. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Tristan Hinderliter)

Tech. Sgt. Joseph Sullivan, an MQ-9 Reaper specialist, performs scheduled maintenance on avionics equipment on Nov. 3, 2012. Sullivan is part of the MQ-9 Aircraft Maintenance Unit, 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Kandahar Airfield. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Tristan Hinderliter)

Airman First Class Casey Spencer is a debriefer with the MQ-9 Aircraft Maintenance Unit, 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Kandahar Airfield. When the aircraft land, the operators bring aircraft forms to Spencer and debrief how the aircraft flew. She then inputs that data into the unit’s online maintenance database that gets tracked as part of the aircraft history. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Tristan Hinderliter)

Airman First Class Casey Spencer is a debriefer with the MQ-9 Aircraft Maintenance Unit, 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Kandahar Airfield. When the aircraft land, the operators bring aircraft forms to Spencer and debrief how the aircraft flew. She then inputs that data into the unit’s online maintenance database that gets tracked as part of the aircraft history. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Tristan Hinderliter)

The emblem of the MQ-9 Reaper Aircraft Maintenance Unit is shown here on a blast wall near their ramp. The Latin inscription translates to “Everybody lives; not everybody deserves to.” The primary mission of the remotely-piloted MQ-9 is to hunt and kill the enemy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Tristan Hinderliter)

The emblem of the MQ-9 Reaper Aircraft Maintenance Unit is shown here on a blast wall near their ramp. The Latin inscription translates to “Everybody lives; not everybody deserves to.” The primary mission of the remotely-piloted MQ-9 is to hunt and kill the enemy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Tristan Hinderliter)

Airman First Class Tyler Rude, a weapons troop with the MQ-9 Reaper Aircraft Maintenance Unit, downloads flags from the aircraft after a mission on Nov. 3, 2012. The unit creates certificates to go with the flags, certifying that they have been flown in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Tristan Hinderliter)

Airman First Class Tyler Rude, a weapons troop with the MQ-9 Reaper Aircraft Maintenance Unit, downloads flags from the aircraft after a mission on Nov. 3, 2012. The unit creates certificates to go with the flags, certifying that they have been flown in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Tristan Hinderliter)

Staff Sgt. Alejandra Uribe and Airman First Class Tyler Rude, weapons troops with the MQ-9 Reaper Aircraft Maintenance Unit, remove flags from the aircraft after a mission on Nov. 3, 2012. The unit creates certificates to go with the flags, certifying that they have been flown in combat. The Airmen are talking to Capt. Lindsay Freeman, officer-in-charge of the AMU. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Tristan Hinderliter)

Staff Sgt. Alejandra Uribe and Airman First Class Tyler Rude, weapons troops with the MQ-9 Reaper Aircraft Maintenance Unit, remove flags from the aircraft after a mission on Nov. 3, 2012. The unit creates certificates to go with the flags, certifying that they have been flown in combat. The Airmen are talking to Capt. Lindsay Freeman, officer-in-charge of the AMU. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Tristan Hinderliter)

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- When Senior Airman Nathan Reiser joined the Air Force nearly three years ago, he had orders to be a maintainer for the A-10.

At the last minute, he found out he would instead be working on the MQ-9 Reaper.

"It was completely new and not a lot of people had heard about it," he said. "I was pretty excited."

Reiser is deployed to KAF for the second time. On his first deployment, last year, he had the opportunity to do the first-ever 10,000-hour inspection on a Reaper.

"It was pretty exciting to be a part of that," he said. "'First-ever' is always a good title."

He and his fellow maintainers work 12-hour shifts in a close environment, allowing them to form bonds based on shared mission objectives and a desire to get the job done well.

"The camaraderie with the guys I work with, that's really nice," Reiser said. "We live together, work together, eat together, work out together - it really is like a family out here. I enjoy what I do and am proud to do it."

Capt. Lindsay Freeman is the officer-in-charge for the MQ-9 Aircraft Maintenance Unit, which is part of the 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

Freeman, originally from Fairmont, N.C., and deployed here from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., leads a team of 78 active-duty Airmen and a handful of civilian contractors from General Atomics, the company that manufactures the aircraft. They maintain approximately 20 Coalition-operated Reapers.

The aircraft at KAF are all relatively new and were delivered here straight from the factory. The Reaper is an armed multi-role remotely piloted aircraft, or RPA. It's primarily employed against enemy targets, but is also used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. It is larger and more heavily armed than its cousin, the MQ-1 Predator.

While the Reapers are launched, recovered and maintained here, most of the sorties are flown by operators nearly 8,000 miles at locations in the United States. 

"One advantage of an RPA is that it has a smaller footprint than traditional aircraft," Freeman said. "Since we just do the launch and recovery elements here in the AOR, we have less people and less equipment than a conventional aircraft unit."

There are multiple Reaper sorties flown each day out of KAF, and a lot of work goes on behind the scenes for each mission.

Maintainers do basic pre-flight and post-flight checks, which include a complete aircraft walk-around inspection by the crew chief and the specialist. Weapons systems maintainers check that the munitions will arm and de-arm properly, so if the pilots need to engage an enemy to save Coalition lives, the weapons are ready.

The Airmen conduct basic maintenance to prepare the Reapers and refuel them. There is also extensive work done off the flight line, such as filling out paperwork to properly document all the work.

The Reaper's range is more than 1,000 miles, and a typical Reaper sortie can offer significant time in the air. After the aircraft is launched and is some distance from the base, the operators here hand off control to a mission control element in the United States.