Dec 052008

Dec 5, 2008

Graham Warwick and John M. Doyle
Heavy turbulence has thwarted the second attempt to deliver the first General Atomics Predator B unmanned air vehicle (UAV) to Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., today for duty patrolling the U.S.-Canadian border.The 64-foot wingspan UAV turned back before mid-day because of the rough air about 300 miles north of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Air & Marine’s UAV base in Sierra Vista, Ariz. Better weather conditions were forecast for a third attempt on Dec. 6, according to Juan Munoz Torres, a CBP A&M spokesman.

The Predator B will be based at a special UAV operations center at the N.D. airbase, about 13 miles from Grand Forks International Airport, where CBP A&M maintains an air branch with manned rotary and fixed-wing aircraft. The latest UAV, CBP’s fourth Predator, originally was scheduled to arrive Dec. 4 but was delayed by a communications problem at Sierra Vista, where three Predators are based to patrol the southern border with Mexico.

While the UAVs patrol the U.S. southern border border at night, CBP A&M says some of the flights along the northern border could be conducted in daylight. The agency plans to begin operations in late January 2009, but has still to reach agreement with the FAA on the flight restrictions to be imposed when the UAV is flying.

The northern Predator will be controlled locally from Grand Forks but data from its synthetic-aperture radar and electro-optical/infrared sensors will be piped to CBP operations centers in Washington, D.C., and Riverside, Calif. Eventually, the UAV will be controlled via satellite communications from the CBP A&M Operations Center in Riverside.

CBP will receive its fifth Predator before year-end. Only one vehicle will be based in Grand Forks initially, but the agency expects at least four will be needed to maintain patrol of the northern border.

Meantime, eight U.S. Air Force Predator As are scheduled to arrive at Grand Forks beginning in early 2009 and will be flown by the North Dakota Air National Guard. The Guard’s 178th Reconnaissance Squadron – recently converted from flying F-16s – is helping the ANG’s three UAV squadrons double its combat air patrols in Iraq and Afghanistan (Aerospace DAILY, Aug. 22). Since 2005, ANG Predator units have been formed in California, Arizona and North Dakota and maintain several overseas combat air patrols on an around-the-clock basis.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>