Military drone command center coming to Horsham, Pa.

March 19, 2013 3:28:10 PM PDT
Action News learned Tuesday that the military's controversial drone program is coming to the Horsham Air Guard Base starting in October.

At Lancers Diner, a longtime neighbor of the base, the buzz Tuesday was that the drones are coming.

"There are various opinions," said diner hostess Helen Thomas. "Some people are very happy about it. Other people feel that it's invading their privacy." In other words, she said, those people don't like the idea of military drones.

The Air Guard says there will not be any actual drones here. Instead, a ground control center will be built.

Pilots and sensor operators will sit in virtual cockpits that resemble an oversized video game operation.

They will control what the military calls Remotely Piloted Aircraft, and what the rest of us call drones.

In Willow Grove's case, they will fly MQ-9 Reapers. They are the bigger, faster and more heavily armed cousins of the better-known Predators.

Again, authorities say Willow Grove's runways will not be used. The operators will be here, but the drones typically are at forward bases near potential targets and/or surveillance areas.

It was two years ago that the last aircraft left Willow Grove, along with 3000 military jobs.

We spoke with one Navy veteran and his daughter who attended that last flight ceremony.

"I think it's a good idea," said John Kerr of Warminster, Pa., referring to the new drone command center. "It brings some back."

"I think it's good that it's still going to be military," said Kerr's daughter, Bonnie Sandy, also of Warminster. "I think it just brings back what we were all born and raised with."

The governor's office, which made the news public Tuesday, said the new center would create about 250 jobs, 75 of those full time and the rest part time.

Most of those employed will be military personnel, not civilian.