US Marines recently marked a milestone after members of the Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1 (VMU-1) managed to successfully carry out their very first operational flight of an MQ-9 Reaper drone

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI), the operator and maker of the drone, noted in an April 16 release the flight took place on March 20, and that it was conducted at an undisclosed location in the Middle East. 

Although GA-ASI did not specify the exact location in the release, it is speculated that the flight took place in Afghanistan, as the company leases Reaper drones to the VMU-1 in the country.

As for the Marines that took part in the support mission, they remotely operated the unmanned aerial vehicle from the US - specifically Yuma, Arizona, Maj. Joe Reney, a spokesperson for Marine Corps Forces Central Command, told

"The MQ-9 is a very reliable and versatile platform that can be launched and recovered anywhere we have a runway and a small launch and recovery element," Reney said.

Prior to the landmark flight, GA-ASI operated all intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions for the service, which amounted to more than 7,000 flight hours since September 2018. 

Reney told the US military-focused outlet that while GA-ASI carried out operations, Marines were instructed on the technical, tactical and operational support procedures to properly operate the drone.

“This achievement represents a unique milestone and example of the Marine Corps’ legacy of innovation,” David R. Alexander, president of GA-ASI, said in a statement accompanying the release. “As a partner with the Marine Corps, we look forward to expanding the role of Medium-altitude, Long-endurance (MALE) [unmanned aerial systems] in support of maritime littoral missions.”

It’s presently unclear just how many Marines involved in the training program are qualified to operate the Reaper drones.

The accomplishment comes as the service has been working with the US Air Force since at least June 2018 to put together VMU crews to undergo Group 5 unmanned aerial vehicle training, which would qualify participants to operate the Reapers. The training also includes instruction for the RQ-4 Global Hawk and the MQ-4C Triton.