North Dakota ANG unit flies first unmanned mission

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Members of the 119th Wing flew its first unmanned aircraft system mission as an MQ-1 Predator flew July 2 from Fargo.

Airmen of the North Dakota Air National Guard squadron is flying the Predator after converting in January to new missions of unmanned aircraft and the C-21 cargo aircraft.

The Predator is a medium-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft primarily used for interdiction and reconnaissance.

The 119th Wing converted from the F-16 Fighting Falcon jet mission to Predators and C-21s. The C-21 is an interim aircraft leading up to the joint cargo aircraft, expected to be available by 2011.

"This is an example of how truly incredible the members of the North Dakota National Guard are," said North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven. "Our Soldiers and Airmen continue to make significant contributions on the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now they are able to do it right from Fargo."

"This week marks the beginning of a new era and an exciting future for the North Dakota Air National Guard. The 119th Wing is at the forefront of future unmanned aircraft systems," said North Dakota National Guard Adjutant General Army Maj. Gen. David A. Sprynczynatyk. "The hard work and dedication of the Happy Hooligans have made this a very successful transition. The 119th Wing is leading the way and will stay relevant for years to come."

"The North Dakota Air National Guard has flown fighters for 60 years, but now, we're bringing all of the skills from the fighter mission into the Predator mission," said Col. Robert Becklund, the 119th Wing commander. "This is a dramatic and cultural change for our unit and we're proud to be a part of this new and exciting mission."

Members of the wing have been training for the new positions of the Predator mission.
"It is great to be a part of this air and space power mission," said Lt. Col. Rick Gibney, the commander the reconnaissance squadron. "It is exciting and rewarding to be a part of this mission that involves the war on terrorism, homeland security and domestic contingencies."