Unmanned Aircraft Headed to Upstate New York

As Navy Seals rushed into Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, an unmanned aircraft likely hovered high above, feeding live video back to President Obama and his national security team […]

As Navy Seals rushed into Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, an unmanned aircraft likely hovered high above, feeding live video back to President Obama and his national security team back in Washington. These Unmanned aerial vehicles have played an increasingly important role in the war against both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. And some of them soon may be flying training missions over upstate New York.  Our story comes from Gino Geruntino with the New York Reporting Project at Utica College.

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They fly high along the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan and have patrolled both our northern and southern borders. With a cruising speed around 230 miles per hour and a flight ceiling of up to 50,000 feet, they can even be controlled from half the world away.

But don’t call them drones.

AIRFORCE 1638 YOU KNOW THE TERM DRONE, IT’S CERTAINLY A GREAT HOOK IN TERMS OF A NICKNAME, BUT WHEN WE THINK OF A DRONE, I THINK OF SOMETHING THAT’S, YOU KNOW, SORT OF A MARAUDING ROBOT THAT’S OUT THERE ROAMING AROUND WITHOUT ANY CONTROL.

That was Colonel Kevin Bradley, Commander of the 174th Fighter Wing of the New York Air National Guard. His airmen guide unmanned MQ-9 Reapers flying half a world away, over the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan… all from a base located at Hancock Field in Syracuse. The Reapers also have a highly sophisticated surveillance system, allowing them to zoom in and track a target from miles away…

AIRFORCE “IT’S KEY COMPONENT IS ITS ABILITY, WITH A VERY GOOD SENSOR ON THE AIRPLANE, TO PROVIDE FULL MOTION VIDEO BACK OFF THE AIRPLANE TO A GROUND STATION.”

Now the Air Force is getting ready to train its “pilots” by flying unarmed drones over the Black River Valley and the Tug Hill plateau in Upstate New York; the same terrain F-16 fighters performed exercises over for years. Starting in June, pilots will learn to use the camera systems by performing simple tasks like counting cows or targeting military vehicles for surveillance.

AIRFORCE “1334 IN TERMS OF FOLLOWING SPECIFIC VEHICLES OR LOOKING AT SPECIFIC TARGETS, WE DON’T DO THAT. WE’VE GOT CLEAR GUIDANCE FROM BOTH OUR AIR FORCE INSTRUCTIONS AS WELL AS FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE… // IT’S NEVER ANYTHING THAT IS SPECIFICALLY IDENTIFIABLE. IT’S REALLY INFORMATION THAT WOULD BE PUBLICLY AVAILABLE.”

 

But to some, unmanned aircraft flying in upstate skies pose a threat to the citizens below. Barrie Gewanter is the Director of the Central New York Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

ACLU “0124 WE HAVE SERIOUS CONCERNS WHENEVER THE MILITARY PROPOSES TO DO SURVEILLANCE OPERATIONS WITHIN THE UNITED STATES.// 0144 THIS ACTUALLY PROPOSES DOING SURVEILLANCE  OF PEOPLE THAT ARE JUST DOING NORMAL ACTIVITIES WITHIN THE INTERIOR OF THE UNITED STATES. THAT REALLY RAISES SERIOUS CONCERNS.”

Gewanter also questions where the captured images are going. The group has filed Freedom Of Information requests with government agencies in an attempt to find out.

ACLU “0240 WE HAVE GOTTEN, OR ARE BEGINNING TO GET, DOCUMENTS RELATED TO THAT FROM ALL THE AGNENCIES WE SENT THE FOIA REQUESTS TO, EXCEPT FOR THE CIA.”

And Air Force drones may not be the only ones flying around the area. More unmanned airplanes may be making their way to Upstate New York in the coming years. The United States Customs and Border Patrol already flies regular missions along the borders and is in the process of bringing a control station to the area to perform routine patrols.

John Purdy is director of the National Air Security Operations Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

1328 “WE DID A SUMMERTIME EXPEDITIONARY PACKAGE UP THERE TO EXPLORE, ONE, WAS IT FEASIBLE, HOW WELL COULD WE WORK IN THE AREA, AND IT ACTUALLY WORKED OUT REALLY WELL.”

Current plans suggest that their aircraft may someday be based at Fort Drum, near Watertown. But, limited funding, planes and pilots have so far kept the program from getting off the ground.

Still, Colonel Bradley and the Air Force are continuing to look forward…

2045 “WE’RE VERY EXCITED ABOUT SEEING WHAT THE POSSIBILITY IS GOING TO BE IN THE CIVILIAN SECTOR, BECAUSE CLEARLY THIS IS THE VERY, VERY BEGINNING OF THIS NEW TECHNOLOGY.”

A technology that the Air Force is already using extensively, and one, it says, that can be used over Upstate New York without ruffling any other feathers.

This is Gino Geruntino for the New York Reporting Project at Utica College.

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