MQ-1 squadron celebrates 100 years

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Christian Clausen
  • 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

The 15th Attack Squadron patch depicting a pigeon clutching a telescope, harkens to the squadron’s long history of reconnaissance missions.  

On May 9, 2017, the 15th ATKS celebrated their 100-year anniversary and reflected on the unit’s extensive and honorable heritage, which coincidentally, includes their use of airpower in nearly every major conflict of the 20th Century. This heritage is carried on in today’s fight with remotely piloted aircraft MQ-1 Predators.   

Six years prior to the unit’s inception in 1917, a French Marshal Ferdinand Foch asserted that “airplanes are interesting toys, but of no military value.” However, the 15th Aero Squadron, along with many units, proved this assumption wrong.

Upon its activation during World War I, members of the 15th Aero Squadron began flying Airco DH-4s, Curtiss JN-4s and JN-6s. More than 20 years later, pilots from the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron flew photographic reconnaissance versions of the P-51 Mustang and Spitfire over the European theater in World War II.  In the early morning of Jun 6, 1944, pilots of the 15th TRS received credit for both the first aerial victory of D-Day and the first victory by a tactical reconnaissance pilot.

After World War II, the 15th TRS carried on its combat legacy in the Korean and Vietnam War while flying tactical reconnaissance aircraft such as the RF-86 Sabre, RF-101 Voodoo and RF-4C Phantom II.

In 1997, the 15th Reconnaissance Squadron stood up to fly the remotely piloted RQ-1 Predator at Indian Springs Auxiliary Airfield, Nev., which was later renamed Creech Air Force Base. Today, they continue to fly the MQ-1 in concentrated efforts against terror organizations.

“Today, we are tasked to provide persistent attack and reconnaissance capabilities, against a real and tangible threat,” said Lt. Col. Erik, 15th ATKS commander.

The 15th ATKS is the second and most enduring of the MQ-1 Predator combat squadrons as the 11th RS was activated in 1995, but became a field training unit in the mid-2000s when it relinquished its combat role. The 15th ATKS has been at the forefront of tremendous growth and technical innovations. Two of the most impactful evolutions were remote-split operations, the ability to fly the aircraft from a geographically separated cockpit (ground control station) thousands of miles away and the integration of weapons.  

During the early 2000s, the 15th RS began flying Predators with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles on board and played an integral part in combating terror organizations. This capability combined with professional aircrews enabled the future of armed RPAs and paved the way for the larger, faster and more capable MQ-9 Reaper in 2007.

The 15th RS at the time, also played a critical role in forming other MQ-1 squadrons such as the 18th ATKS and 3rd Special Operations Squadron.

“Looking back, almost all U.S. Air Force RPA squadrons owe their operational legacy to the 15th,” Erik said. “In the beginning we were flying two to three combat lines and developing the initial tactics, techniques and procedures for RPA operations.  Today, we help enable the USAF’s 60 combat lines of MQ-1Bs and MQ-9s.”

On May 15, 2016, the 15th RS became the 15th ATKS which signified the precision attack capabilities and contributions of MQ-1s and their crews.

“We’ve seen the full evolution from an ancillary role to a major weapons system and we’ve trained our crews to maximize the potential of this airframe,” Erik said. “The change prefaces a shift in the mission set and the 15th’s future transition to the Reaper.”

Looking toward the future, the 15th ATKS will progress to the MQ-9 Reaper and will continue providing persistent attack and reconnaissance to the combatant commanders to eliminate the enemy while keeping ground and coalition forces safe.

What Erik finds even more significant is the fact that 100 years ago, the thought of military aircraft in flight was absurd. Now, it is an integral part of the war fight.  

“When we look back now at what Marshal Foch said 100 years ago we find it ridiculous, but at the time that was the prevailing attitude,” Erik said. “Some people had similar thoughts when we started flying RQ-1s, questioning the real military value of this technology. Over the last 20 years, the men and women of the 15th ATKS have not only proven those assumptions wrong, they’ve also set the stage for the future of our RPA enterprise.”