SMYRNA, Tenn. (WKRN) — A vision years in the making took flight Wednesday as members of the Tennessee National Air Guard got to see an unmanned military aircraft land in the Volunteer State for the first time.

On Wednesday, June 7, crews gathered at the Smyrna Airport to see the MQ-9 unmanned aircraft land while being piloted by airmen from the 118th Wing, a Tennessee Air National Guard unit stationed in Nashville.

“This is historic. I mean, this is a big deal for us,” said Col. Ted Geasley, commander of the 118th Wing and an MQ-9 pilot. “Back in 2019, in conjunction with TEMA, we did an exercise where we actually got an MQ-9 over and simulated like, hey, if there was a massive earthquake, what could we do, how could we help, things like that, but we couldn’t put the plane on the ground.” 

For years, the aircraft has been used to help out in places like California, giving a bird’s eye view after natural disasters, like wildfires and storm damage. 

“Recently, we had wildfires in East Tennessee a few years ago. This would be huge technology that we would be able to then see where that fire is, plan on where we’re going to put resources to support slowing down that fire and knowing where we want to do evacuations,” Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) Assistant Director Chris Johnson explained. 

The MQ-9’s surprising advantage is not having humans inside. That means crews on the ground have the ability to switch out and the aircraft can fly for many hours at a time. Also, no onboard pilot means the MQ-9 can go over dangerous turf without risking someone’s life.  

“It is a very emotional time, not only for me, but for these airmen that have done this,” said Col. Jason W. Glass, assistant adjutant general for the Tennessee Air National Guard. “We’ve got a lot of firsts in Tennessee and this is another one, and it’s just been an honor to be out there to see our airmen succeed like they always do.” 

“To see those wheels touch the ground, it was pretty exciting, so we were pretty fired up about it,” Geasley added. 

The MQ-9 will be on display at the Great Tennessee Air Show, which is taking place at the Smyrna Airport this weekend. Then, the Tennessee Air National Guard will use it for training exercises next week.