US MQ 9A Reaper PredB InFlight Sunrise credit GA ASI 640Crew ordered to crash MQ-9

An MQ-9A Reaper suffered a catastrophic fuel leak while flying in an undisclosed area of Africa, prompting the crew to crash the Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) as hard as possible into the ground to avoid a successful recovery of the aircraft, according to a US Air Force investigation released on 4 June 2021.

The MQ-9A, serial 08-4051, assigned to the 162nd Wing of the AZ ANG and operated by the 214th Attack Squadron The Black Sheep at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (AZ), was flying a mission in support of US Africa Command.

During the flight, the ground control station began to display warnings that fuel was low. The crew found the fuel level was 'well short' of expected levels, and the pilot asked the mission crew commander to help. The sensor operator used the aircraft’s main camera to sweep the aircraft, and discovered it was severely leaking fuel from the fuselage. About 45 minutes after first discovering the issue, the Reaper began to return to base at maximum speed, but the crew realised the fuel leak was catastrophic and they couldn’t make it.

USA USAF 214th ATKS patch 320According to the report the Combined Air Operations Center directed the commander and pilot to crash the aircraft, and to do so in a way that would minimize chances of a successful recovery effort. The Reaper was lost in an undisclosed location and not recovered. The loss was calculated at USD 11 million.

The investigation found that the cause of the crash was the fuel leak from the Forward Electric Fuel Heater. Additionally, the investigation found maintainers had not completed a time compliant technical order to fix a known MQ-9 deficiency with the fuel system, the design of the aircraft’s fuel detection system, and a lack of guidance and tolerances for the fuel system also contributed to the mishap.

According the Scramble Magazine Air Order of Battle for the USAF, the MQ-9A Reapers are operated and based at the following locations:

Air Combat Command (ACC)
11th ATKS ('CH'), 432nd Wing at Chreech AFB (NV)
15th ATKS ('CH'), 432nd Wing at Chreech AFB (NV)
17th ATKS ('CH'), 432nd Wing at Chreech AFB (NV)
20th ATKS ('CH'), 432nd Wing at Whiteman AFB (MO)
22nd ATKS ('CH'), 432nd Wing at Chreech AFB (NV)
26th WPS ('WA'), 57th Wing at Nellis AFB (NV)
42nd ATKS ('CH'), 432nd Wing at Chreech AFB (NV)
89th ATKS ('CH'), 432nd Wing at Ellsworth AFB (SD)
489th ATKS ('CH'), 432nd Wing at Chreech AFB (NV)
556th ATKS ('OT'), 53rd Wing at Chreech AFB (NV)
867th ATKS ('CH'), 432nd Wing at Chreech AFB (NV)
Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC)
3rd SOS Dragons, 27th SOW at Cannon AFB (NM)
33rd SOS Fireballs, 27th SOW at Cannon AFB (NM)
Air Education and Training Command (AETC)
6th ATKS Hawks ('HO'), 49th Wing at Holloman AFB (NM)
9th ATKS Flying Knights ('HO'), 49th Wing at Holloman AFB (NM)
29th ATKS ('HO'), 49th Wing at Holloman AFB (NM)
Air Force Mobility Command (AFMC)
452nd FLTS Det.1, 412th TW at El Mirage/El Mirage Field-Adelanto Airport (CA)
31st EOG Det.1, 31st FW at Câmpia Turzii (Romania)
52nd EOG Det.2, 52nd FW at Miroslawiec (Poland)
Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC)
2nd SOS Semper Vigilans, 919th SOW at Duke Field (Eglin AF Aux. Nr.3) (FL)
78th ATKS Bushmasters ('CH'), 926th Group based at Chreech AFB (NV) *)
*) The 78th ATKS is an Associate unit to the 432nd Wing and borrows their aircraft, as needed
Air National Guard
103th ATKS, 111th ATKW PA ANG at JRB Willow Grove (PA)
105th ATKS Music, 118th Wing TN ANG at Nashville IAP (TN)
111th ATKS Ace in the Hole ('TX'), 147th ATKW TX ANG at Ellington ANGB (TX)
124th ATKS Hawkeyes ('IA'), 132nd Wing IA ANG at Des Moines IAP (IA)
136th ATKS New York's Finest, 107th ATKW NY ANG at Niagara Falls IAP (NY)
138th ATKS, 174th ATKW NY ANG at Syracuse/Hancock IAP (NY) **)
160th ATKS Grizzly ('CA'), 163rd ATKW CA ANG at March ARB (CA) ***)
162nd FS Yoxford Boys ('OH'), 178th FW OH ANG at Springfield/Beckley Municipal (OH)
178th ATKS Happy Hooligans, 119th Wing ND ANG at Fargo/Hector IAP (ND) ****)
184th ATKS Razorbacks ('FS'), 188th Wing AR ANG at Fort Smith RAP/Ebbing ANGB (AR)
196th ATKS Grizzly ('CA'), 163rd ATKW CA ANG at March ARB (CA) ***)
214th ATKS The Black Sheep, 162nd Wing AZ ANG at Davis Monthan AFB (AZ)
**) Although the pilots are at Syracuse Hancock IAP (NY), the MQ-9A aircraft will be based at Fort Drum (NY)
***) 163rd ATKW: Although the pilots are at March JARB (CA), the MQ-9A aircraft are mainly based at the former George AFB/Southern California Logistics Airport (CA)
****) Although the pilots are at Fargo IAP (ND), the MQ-9A aircraft are based at Grand Forks AFB (ND)

Photo via GA-ASI / patch 214th ATKS via

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