Six Predators started flying missions over Haiti from a Puerto Rican airport Jan. 27, marking the first time the Air Force’s unmanned RQ-1s have flown humanitarian missions or operated out of a civilian airport.
The Predators have flown two round-the-clock orbits over Port-au-Prince, feeding full-motion video of roads and buildings, devastated by the Jan. 12 earthquake, to service members, relief organizations and Haitian officials.
“We have focused a lot on roads and infrastructure because they want to see what is intact,” said Maj. Jeff Bright, the 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing detachment commander during a Jan. 28 telephone interview from Puerto Rico.
The Air Force didn’t receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration until Jan. 25. Predators and MQ-9 Reapers had never before received FAA approval to operate out of a civilian airport…
“This is an open deployment. We are going to be here as long as we are needed,” Bright said.
The hardest part of the deployment thus far has been receiving approval from the FAA, the detachment commander said. Service officials have been in discussions with the FAA about operating at civilian airports for years, but saving lives in Haiti served as a motivator to move this mission along, Bright said…
The Air Force declassified the feeds from the Predators to allow relief organizations such as the Red Cross, U.S.A.I.D. and the United Nations to have access to them. Having live video feeds rather than still imagery from a Global Hawk or a U-2 — which have also flown over Haiti — allows commanders to move quickly to different regions of Port-au-Prince depending on need, Bright said.
As regulars know, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. Using military forces for peaceful tasks ain’t the end of the world – except in the minds of those consumed by hatred. It’s one of the tasks envisioned by many when the Cold War was declared over back in the Clinton days.
Allowing public access to unencrypted transmissions from the birds is a qualitative step forward.