The flying mission of the 111th Fighter Wing may have been grounded, but officials said a new mission is in sight at the Horsham Air Guard Station.
The U.S. Air Force has chosen the Pennsylvania Air National Guard's 111th Fighter Wing, located at the 238-acre Horsham Air Guard Station, adjacent to the shuttered Willow Grove air base, to take on a new Remotely Piloted Aircraft mission.
The National Guard Bureau has authorized the wing to establish a ground-control station for the MQ-9 Reaper at the Horsham Air Guard Station effective Oct. 1.
"This is an exciting time for our wing, and our Airmen are energized to embrace this new mission," Col. Howard "Chip" Eissler, 111th Fighter Wing commander said in a press release issued Tuesday. "I'm proud to see that the Air Force recognizes our wing's capabilities, strategic location and our diversely talented members. The composition, operational tempo and infrastructure of our unit will increase as we prepare to take on this new challenge of housing a high-tech ground control station right here in Horsham."
Nearly 250 jobs, approximately 75 of which are full-time positions, will be added to the wing to support this new mission.
The MQ-9 Reaper will be controlled from a virtual cockpit on the installation by a two-person team consisting of a pilot and a sensor operator. The actual aircraft will not be located on the base.
"Airmen on the ground here will soon be behind the controls of a remotely piloted aircraft being flown in locations far from home," said Eissler. "While the MQ-9 will be a significant platform change from the A-10 Thunderbolt II that we flew for years, the mission will be nothing new for the pilots of the 111th. We have been overseas multiple times in our A-10s, now we'll be flying overseas missions from Horsham."
Congressman Patrick Meehan (R-7), called the federal government's "new investment" in Horsham "welcome news."
“The new battlefields of the 21st century are being fought increasingly through the use of drones and other cutting-edge cyberwarfare technologies," Meehan said in a statement. "Our region will soon be at the forefront of this effort. As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity on the Homeland Security Committee, I’ve seen up close how important these efforts are to the war on terror. I have great confidence that the men and women of the Pennsylvania Air Guard are up to the job and will defend our country with great skill and professionalism.”
The 111th Fighter Wing has been in its current location in Horsham since 1963. The highly decorated unit has supported numerous overseas operations since 1995 to include operations Southern Watch, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
News of the Remotely Piloted Aircraft, or drone command center is nothing new. In March 2012, during a visit to the Horsham Air Guard Station, 111th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Howard “Chip” Eissler told Patch that he was awaiting word of a new “flight” mission of sorts.
The idea, Eissler had said, was to be able to sit in Horsham and use technology to fly planes elsewhere.
“They take these airplanes, they take them overseas,” Eissler had said. “We actually sit here on the base … We won’t see or touch the airplanes. We will execute a mission in Afghanistan while sitting remotely.”
With the mission in sight, officials said the next step is to hire people to fill the roles. Pennsylvania Air National Guard recruiting superintendent, Senior Master Sgt. Matt Giacobbe, said a robust recruiting effort is required to put people in these cutting-edge positions.
"The Pennsylvania Air National Guard recruits individuals with a diverse set of skills and offers tangible benefits for their service, especially in their pursuit of their higher education," Giacobbe said. "We're specifically seeking current or former military aviators, but are looking forward to recruiting and training a variety of individuals to fill positions related to this new mission inHorsham."
Individuals interested in learning more about these and other positions can call 1-800-997-2264 or visit www.goang.com.