HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Adding to an already impressive aircraft collection, an MQ-1B Predator remotely piloted aircraft, commonly referred to as a drone, is now on public display at the Hill Aerospace Museum.
Most are familiar with toy drones, which can often be seen buzzing over neighborhoods, parks and other outdoor areas. However, the military version of the weapon system on display at the museum is a different story.
This aircraft is 27 feet long with a wingspan of 55 feet, and weighs only 1,130 pounds empty, which is less than most economy cars.
Aaron Clark, Hill Aerospace Museum director, said while the Predator is currently on display, it’s still in the process of being refurbished and is expected to be fully restored within three to four months.
The museum is fabricating a stand for the Predator to be displayed on, as well as attaching the wings and a part for the rudder before the aircraft will be complete.
This Predator first flew Jan. 31, 2005, completing 28,069 flying hours and more than 1,600 combat sorties in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan before it was retired from service in 2017.
The Predator is powered by a four-cylinder, Rotax 914 engine, similar to those commonly found in snowmobiles. It has the ability to loiter over enemy positions for long periods of time collecting real-time data, without endangering its controllers on the other side of the world.
This primary feature, combined with comparative low operating costs, made the MQ-1 pivotal in fighting the Global War on Terror. For this reason, the Predator’s ability to not only gather intelligence, but also target a single individual, has made it indispensable for the type of warfare the U.S. engages in today.
Initially created in the 1980’s by a civilian aerospace engineer, then purchased and developed as an unmanned reconnaissance aircraft by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the Predator first saw deployment operations by the Air Force in 1996 over Bosnia.
Towards the end of the 1990s the Predator was upgraded and equipped with a live satellite video link and a laser designator to illuminate targets and guide weapons dropped from other aircraft.
At the beginning of this century significant changes in warfare were taking place, demonstrated by 9/11 and the global threat of al Qaeda. This led to the arming of the Predator with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, as well as high resolution cameras and synthetic aperture radar.
Utah’s connection to the Predator occurred 2004 when the Air Force began phase II weapons testing, demonstrating the drone’s ability to strike a moving target. Crew members on the ground in Indian Springs, Nevada, remotely guided a Predator to the Utah Test and Training Range and successfully engaged two moving tanks.
Since then, the Ogden Air Logistics Complex at Hill Air Force Base has provided software development and sustainment of the weapon system.
The Hill Aerospace Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Admission is free.