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174th Attack Wing receives additional air space to fly drones from Fort Drum

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FORT DRUM — Unmanned aircrafts taking off from the post’s Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield will have additional airspace south of its current airspace after receiving approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The new space gives the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing, Syracuse, which flies MQ-9 Reapers, an additional area of about 20 miles by 20 miles, which covers portions of Onondaga, Madison and Oswego counties, with boundaries generally listed as the southern end of Syracuse, out west to Camillus and east to Fayetteville.

Col. Greg A. Semmel,the air wing’s commander, said his unit will begin using the new space within the next week.

The commander said in a phone call to the Times that the space gives the unit more flexibility to train during harsh weather conditions around the post, avoiding costly training delays and cancellations.

“What happens very often is when that lake effect sets in, it takes out the majority of legacy airspace we’ve had for years,” he said. “What this extension on the south allows is to have more flexibility to get out of those clouds that set up in the Tug Hill area.”

The FAA airspace approval, which happened July 1, was formally announced at a news conference in Syracuse on Monday morning. The unit said the space is similar to the area it used when it previously flew F-16 aircraft.

The unit’s Reapers will fly at a military-designated 18,000 feet altitude.

“For the most part, people won’t even know we’re flying over there,” Col. Semmel said.

In a fact sheet provided to the media, the air wing stated that the aircraft would not be used for any targeted surveillance on U.S. citizens during their training flights, stating multiple laws and Department of Defense regulations prohibited such actions.

Col. Semmel also reiterated the aircraft would not carry live munitions during its training flights, with those armed missions reserved for restricted air space around Fort Drum.

During those live missions at the post’s ranges, the aircraft has the capability of firing 500-pound GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs.

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