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Sun setting the MQ-1 Predator: The final salute

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman James Thompson
  • 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

The Air Force held the MQ-1 Predator’s official retirement ceremony with Airmen from the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing, Remotely Piloted Aircraft enterprise leaders, and MQ-1 alumni March 9, 2018, at Creech.

The MQ-1 ceremony included the final local flight by the Airmen of the 489th Attack Squadron and the last combat line flown by the 15th Expeditionary Attack Squadron in an undisclosed area of responsibility.

An aircrew assigned to the 489th ATKS had an early arrival time of 4:45 am, received a mission brief, stepped to the cockpit and took flight with the MQ-1 for the last time.

“I feel extremely honored and proud to be part of an Air Force aircraft’s retirement,” said Staff Sgt. Robert, 489th ATKS sensor operator. “Especially considering the impact this aircraft has had on today’s fight.”

Aligned with Air Force tradition, firefighters assigned to the 99th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Protection Flight stood by after the local flight and greeted the MQ-1 with a water salute using two firetrucks to commemorate the occasion.

“I am sad to see this capable weapon system go away,” said Robert. “But, I am happy to see the Air Force continue growing and evolving the RPA enterprise.”

A water salute was a formal acknowledgement of past victories of the MQ-1 and symbolized the Air Force’s farewell to the airframe.

Ceremony attendees included RPA enterprise leaders who were critical in the development of the MQ-1.

Mr. Abraham Karem, president of Karem Aircraft Incorporated and the original engineer of the MQ-1, spoke during the ceremony. Karem manufactured his first drone, Albatross, in his garage and later, the more sophisticated Amber, which eventually evolved into the distinguished Predator.

“The key was not going from the garage to Amber to GNAT 750 to Predator A,” Karem said. “The key was really creating the team.”

After its creation, a need for greater intelligence collection capability lead to Air Force acquisition, continuous advancement and eventual arming of the Predator.

Mr. James G. “Snake” Clark, the Director, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Modernization and Infrastructure and Deputy Chief of Staff for ISR, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, was a determined advocate in the Predator’s early stages.

Clark’s advocacy contributed to the first combat deployment of the Predator in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the addition of the AGM-114 Hellfire, the development of the remote operations video enhanced receiver (ROVER) allowing unparalleled situational awareness on the ground, and the eventual growth of the RPA community.

“This wing and other Predator wings have done more for the war on terrorism than any other wing in the Air Force,” Clark said. “You have saved lives.”

 “The MQ-1’s persistence and unique combination of strike and reconnaissance capabilities makes it a valuable tool for combatant commanders, but technology itself does not win wars,” said Col. Julian Cheater, 432nd WG/432nd AEW commander. “It is the combination of our innovative Airmen, joint and coalition partners, and our brilliant industrial base that have teamed together to fight this away game against our nation’s most ruthless enemies.”

The sun setting ceremony celebrated the MQ-1s departure and marked the beginning of an all-MQ-9 Reaper force.

(Editor's note: This is part four of a four-part series.)