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82nd ATRS: Paving Way With Ground To Air Mission

An employee of PAE, an Arlington, Virginia based organization inspects the components of a QF-16 Feb. 4 at the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron Full-scale operations facility at Tyndall. The QF-16 is used for simulated cold missions, or safe missions which utilizes a remote operator and pilot simultaneously. The PAE contractors manage all maintenance on full-scale and sub-scale drones. The 82d maintains 20 QF-16s and 40 BQM-167s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ty-Rico Lea)

An employee of PAE, an Arlington, Virginia based organization inspects the components of a QF-16 Feb. 4 at the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron Full-scale operations facility at Tyndall. The QF-16 is used for simulated cold missions, or safe missions which utilizes a remote operator and pilot simultaneously. The PAE contractors manage all maintenance on full-scale and sub-scale drones. The 82d maintains 20 QF-16s and 40 BQM-167s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ty-Rico Lea)

Ray Gallien, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron Florida off-shore incorporated manager, sits behind a 120-foot drone recovery vessel’s helm Feb. 4 at the Bonita Bay 82nd ATRS water recovery operations facility. It is this facility’s responsibility to recover downed BQM-167 subscale drones used in simulated air-to-air combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ty-Rico Lea)

Ray Gallien, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron Florida off-shore incorporated manager, sits behind a 120-foot drone recovery vessel’s helm Feb. 4 at the Bonita Bay 82nd ATRS water recovery operations facility. It is this facility’s responsibility to recover downed BQM-167 subscale drones used in simulated air-to-air combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ty-Rico Lea)

Tim Clayton, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron electronics technician, prepares to install computer components onto a BQM-167 subscale drone Feb. 4 at the subscale operations facility at Tyndall. The BQM-167 is a remotely-controlled subscale aerial target used to provide a threat-representative target drone to support the Air-to-Air Weapon System Evaluation Program and other Air Force and Department of Defense air-to-air test and evaluation programs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ty-Rico Lea)

Tim Clayton, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron electronics technician, prepares to install computer components onto a BQM-167 subscale drone Feb. 4 at the subscale operations facility at Tyndall. The BQM-167 is a remotely-controlled subscale aerial target used to provide a threat-representative target drone to support the Air-to-Air Weapon System Evaluation Program and other Air Force and Department of Defense air-to-air test and evaluation programs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ty-Rico Lea)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- There's a unit at Tyndall that incorporates all the skills required for land, air and sea capabilities. From keeping aircraft in the sky, to training pilots for top-notch air superiority, the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron does it all. As one of five squadrons that make up the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group, the 82nd ATRS initiates and operates all BQM-167 and QF-16 flight simulations above the Gulf Coast of Mexico.

The BQM-167, also known as a sub-scale drone is a miniature remote controlled aircraft used to test the air fighting capabilities of fighter jets. The QF-16 is a full-scale aircraft that can be manual and or remotely piloted to target sub-scale drones.

"Our squadron is tasked with providing safe, effective, and efficient aerial targets support for Department of Defense and foreign military sales weapons test and evaluation programs," said Lt. Col. Matthew Garrison, 82nd ATRS commander.

A typical day for personnel in the 82nd ATRS begins with a mission brief detailing plans and expectations. Once this is accomplished, personnel report to their respective areas of duty and commence operations.

Duties may vary from flight to flight, for example, full-scale and sub-scale operations require members to organize and prepare drones both manned and unmanned for launch.

Before a drone is launched it is assigned an operator who tracks its position while airborne.

"All unmanned drones are flown by aircrew," said Senior Master Sgt. Danny Sellers, 82nd ATRS superintendent. "Each mission's flight plan is determined by the customer's request to evaluate the mission and can include a predetermined set of flight plans or maneuvers. In some cases, we are required to conduct cold missions."

When the squadron flies QF-16 cold missions or safe missions, this indicates that it is a manned flight with a person inside, usually coupled with another member remotely controlling the aircraft for said pilot.

"Using unmanned drones is a platform that provides tactically realistic aerial target support for weapon system evaluation programs and other higher headquarters test and developments efforts," said Sellers.

Once a scenario is deemed complete, and data is collected from the exercise, the BQM-167 sub-scale drones used as targets are recovered and brought back to the squadron's facility and repaired. On the other hand, the drone will land out to sea. When this occurs, the 82nd ATRS water recovery operations facility personnel travel out to the Gulf of Mexico for retrieval.

"This flight's mission requires the safe and adequate recovery of BQM-167s during full and sub-scale drone operations," said Sellers. "This allows the Air Force to save an estimated $11 million a year in cost and materials."

Florida Offshore, a contracted company, maintains and operates the 82nd Watercraft Fleet. This includes three 120-foot Missile Retriever Boats and two 27-foot bay patrol boats.

The 82nd ATRS water recovery operations facility partners with the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard.

Staffs assigned to maintenance are responsible for making sure all drones are mission ready. Their tasks can range from a simple paint job to replacing a key component that may determine if a drone will operate or not.

Contractors are employed by PAE, an Arlington, Virginia based organization responsible for the maintenance of all drones assigned to the 82nd ATRS. The 82nd ATRS manages 20 QF-16s and 40 BQM-167s in total.

"The 82nd ATRS regularly utilizes its missile retrievers to participate in search and rescue missions," Sellers said. "By using all elements provided and developed by us in the squadron, we are able to propel the mission the 53rd WEG wishes to accomplish."