MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Pa., (CBS) — From the outside, the former Willow Grove Air Station can appear somewhat abandoned. That is a product of military cuts in 2010.
However, as of several days ago, the unassuming location is now home to a large scale drone operation.
Pilots are operating MQ-9 Reapers which are essentially drones. People in the area are not going to see them, nor would they want to. They are flown in conflict zones, likely the Middle East.
They are operated here, flown there and are playing a major role in our national defense.
There isn’t a functioning aircraft in sight. There hasn’t been one for years at the Willow Grove Air Station. However, it is where some of the highest trained military pilots are doing their flying.
“You go out in uniform around here and they’re like oh, what are you doing? Well I work over at the base,” said Col. William Griffin. He added that the response from most when he says that is that they thought the base closed.
Though it’s not empty, the former Willow Grove Air Station, now Horsham, was hit with a realignment in 2010 which cut functions to about 30 percent.
Now, for the first time since then, the 103rd Attack Squadron has a new mission and it’s big.
“I’d prefer nobody knew about it, but the information is out there,” said Col. Michael Shenk. “It’s more important to me that folks get the accurate information about what we are doing.”
In a secured spot, there is a control room. It is among just 12 around the country where simulated cockpits will allow pilots to control unmanned MQ-9’s or attack drones to war-zones thousands of miles away.
“It gives us a great capability, to minimize any risks should we be required to attack a target,” Shenk said.
The intelligence aircraft is also known as the MQ Reaper, if that’s any indication of the mission’s seriousness.
Though the runway at Horsham will likely never see another plane, the pilots who adored them support the unmanned aircraft missions and keeping young pilots out of harms way and keeping the base on the map.
These drones will not take up local air space. They will simply be operated locally.