RAF Reaper operations pass 10,000h landmark

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Three and a half years after they were first deployed in Afghanistan, the UK Royal Air Force's General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft have logged more than 10,000 flight hours.

Although overwhelmingly used by the RAF for reconnaissance and surveillance tasks, the aircraft carry a typical complement of four Lockheed Martin AGM-114P Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and two GBU-12 226kg (500lb) laser-guided bombs, and can engage in strike missions.

The MQ-9 was first deployed by the RAF from Kandahar airfield in October 2007, but armed variants have been flying since May 2008.

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Controlled by service's 39 Sqn from Creech AFB, Nevada, the UK's present MQ-9 force is set to double to 10 aircraft.

This would mean a corresponding increase to the 100 personnel of 39 Sqn, both at its US control facility, where the aircraft are supported by 17 two-person flightcrews, and in Afghanistan.

Wg Cdr Jules Ball, commander officer of 39 Sqn, says: "Our involvement has increased steadily since the MQ-9 Reaper's introduction into the RAF inventory. In the last 12 months alone, 39 Sqn has more than doubled its operational flying output."