MacDill AFB begins use of Unmanned Aerial Systems

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Zachary Foster
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing, Public Affairs

In collaboration with the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration, the 6th Air Refueling Wing has begun integrating Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), becoming a Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) enabled airspace as a means for the FAA to work more directly with the private drone sector to authorize and monitor the flights of operators across the Tampa Bay community.

UAS or drones have been increasingly integrated into daily mission support operations across the installation, primarily at the 6th Security Forces Squadron.

Staff Sgt. Nicholas Rauch, 6th SFS UAS Program Manager, has dedicated his time to understanding, utilizing, and training drone safety as it pertains to the 6th SFS mission.

“My role is to be able to deploy UAS quickly and efficiently to ensure we can carry out our role in protecting the installation,” said Rauch. “Whether that be traditional force protection or in conjunction with some other squadrons across the installation, we’re doing our best to help in any way we can.”

One of the roles UAS plays is with the 6th SFS maritime protection, claims Rauch. The team is responsible for maintaining the security of the Coastal Restricted Area. Rauch and his team manage this by dispatching a drone to survey areas not easily accessible by land.

“Since we’ve introduced UAS to the [security forces] squadron our communication with other units has drastically improved,” said Rauch. “One big example of this is the Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower. Previously, we had minimal contact, now we’re having almost daily communication.”

Rauch and his team, work in conjunction with ATC for airspace access authorization, prior to each flight.

“We maintain constant two-way communication with the ATC tower throughout the entire duration of the flight,” said Rauch. “That way we’re able to safely navigate the airspace while conducting our operations.”

Walter Childress, 6 ARW ATC controller-in-charge, provides key insight towards understanding the administrative and approval aspects of drone use in or around the installation’s airspace.

“The FAA implemented a program called Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability to track drone use in controlled airspace,” said Childress. “This system allows us to identify when and where drones are being flown prior to their flight.”

Childress describes the LAANC as a system primarily used by private citizens for airspace clearance, however, the system provides a mapping of aviation activities that better supports their ability to safely plan flights.

“We know the approximate date and time of drone activity in the surrounding area prior to each flight,” said Childress. “Using that data, we’re able to make a real-time decision as to whether or not it's safe for more aircraft to enter the airspace.”

The ATC tower holds full authority over access within MacDill Class D airspace and air traffic controllers have to prioritize MacDill mission operations with requests for drone flights.

“If it comes down to it and we need an aircraft in the sky,” said Childress. “We will make that real-time call to down any drones in or around the airspace to ensure our tankers get off the ground.”

While the 6th ARW recognizes drone use is prevalent in civilian life, MacDill remains a no-drone zone for any non-mission essential use. Drones, without proper training and approval, have proven to be a hazard in and around flight lines and will continue to be excluded from recreational use on the installation for the foreseeable future. The 6th SFS has the capability to detect drones within the installations Restricted Airspace.

For information on how to register and utilize drones in a safe manner please visit: