The 147th Air National Guard has a new mission which will keep some part of the unit at Ellington Field. While the fate of the Fighter Wing’s F-16 is still in question, the 147th will be home to a new squadron of Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
The new Predator squadron will employ about 450 people, increasing Ellington Field’s workforce by nearly 50 percent. The first of the 12 unmanned aerial vehicles will arrive next summer. Officials took advantage of the decision to make the case again for keeping the 147-th Fighter Wing’s F-16’s in Houston. The Base Re-alignment and Closure Commission recommended the 147-th for realignment which would send the planes elsewhere. Texas Governor Rick Perry says the Predator’s and F-16’s capabilities complement each other.
Perry says he’s in favor of using the Predator for border security and using the technology for illegal immigration. Houston Congressman Tom Delay says the Predator squadron ensures that some form of the 147th will stay at Ellington.
The Predator has a wing span of 49 feet and is about the size of a Sesna 1-72. It has three sensors and also carries missiles. Lt Colonel Chip Webb says the standard Predator crew is one pilot and two sensor readers the Predator is typically controlled by satellite.
Training classes for the Predator begin next month with the full squadron expected to be in place by the summer of 2009.