FORT DRUM — New drones will be making their way into the north country’s skies, as a company flying MQ-1C Gray Eagle aircraft formally marked its launch.
The Delta Company of the 1st Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, nicknamed the Valkyries, will add approximately 130 soldiers to the post. About 70 percent of its soldiers have arrived. Only one of the unit’s nine Gray Eagles has been fully assembled, and was displayed during today’s ceremony at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield.
Col. Michael C. McCurry, commander of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, called the company’s activation a “new chapter” for the brigade and 10th Mountain Division, and compared its launch to the mindset of soldiers at Camp Hale, Colo. when the division launched during World War II.
“When the time comes for your skills to be put to the test on the future Riva Ridge, there’s no doubt in my mind you’ll be ready,” he said, referencing the division’s fight in the mountains of Italy.
The remotely-piloted 3,600-pound Gray Eagle, which can be equipped with up to four Hellfire missiles, will be used for a variety of missions, including surveillance, convoy protection, reconnaissance and air support.
“We can basically be the eyes for the ground force commander ... giving them more of an overview of what exactly the situation looks like, more than they can just see for themselves,” said Sgt. Matthew S. Allen, the company’s standardization pilot.
The aircraft is piloted by two soldiers, one controlling it in the air while the other controls its on-board camera.
The activation of the unit is part of an Army plan that will place 10 Gray Eagle companies across the service, essentially one with every active duty division, along with a few separate units. It was noted that the new drone company is coming into place as the Army reduces the number of soldiers overall and phases out certain aircraft models.
“It makes you feel very relevent, very needed, participating in something that’s very useful,“ said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ryan J. Owen, the new company’s executive officer.
The company will look to begin flying their Gray Eagles locally around the next two weeks.
The airfield is familiar with the presence of remotely-piloted aircraft, as the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing has flown their 10,500-pound MQ-9 Reaper drone locally since early 2012.
Additionally, the post is seen as an important testing area for the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance as it works with the FAA to integrate drones into civilian airspace.
The next step for the brigade’s program is for Congress to approve $27 million for a hangar. The funding cleared the U.S. House of Representatives, and is in current language working its way through the Senate.