In conducting my research for the character of the pilot in Grounded, in December of 2022, I had an invaluable opportunity – an invitation to visit Creech Air Force Base in Nevada (where Grounded takes place). There, I was introduced to the Commander of the base and several of his colleagues. I spent an entire day exploring, up-close and in-person, the awesome MQ-9 Reaper – the remotely piloted aircraft which the pilot in Grounded flies on her missions.
The MQ-9 Reaper is employed primarily as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance asset and secondarily as a persistent attack and reconnaissance asset.
I was able to sit in a simulator with an RPA pilot and his sensor operator (who controls the cameras) for almost an hour, practicing, in real time, what it’s like to really “fly” an RPA, what it’s like to press that button from a seat in Nevada and watch (1.2 seconds later) the effects of my action on the ground halfway around the world.
While at Creech Air Force Base, I spoke with RPA pilots about their experiences as “drone” pilots. I met with the base chaplain and the base psychiatrist so that I could get a deeper feeling for what the RPA pilots go through. I was given a drive-around tour of the entire base and was able to see the trailers, or mobile cockpits, out of which the RPA pilots conducted their missions.
I saw the crate (or the “caskets”) that are used to transport a disassembled MQ-9 Reaper to locations around the world, where it is then assembled for use.
Like the pilot in the play, I walked around a fully assembled one with aircraft maintenance professionals while they explained, in detail, the features of the camera “mounted on its belly,” the wings that are as wide, if not wider, than an actual fighter jet, and, finally, the fearsome missile ordnance known variously as Sidewinders, Stingers, Hellfires and RPGs (rocket propelled grenades).
The Reaper remains in active service today as part of the U.S. Air Force arsenal.