This episode represents a first for The Spear—a conversation with a pilot of the MQ-9, what the Air Force calls remotely piloted aircraft and is more widely known as the Reaper. John Amble is joined by Maj. Joe Ritter, who shares a story from October 2018.

Uniquely, the story takes place both in south-central Afghanistan—where the aircraft was—and at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada—where Ritter and a sensor operator were flying it from. But as he describes it, that feeling of distance all but disappears once a mission begins. “When I close that door behind me,” he says “I may still be wherever I am, but I feel very much like I’m in Afghanistan or Iraq.”

The story that Ritter shares on this episode highlights a wide range of the capabilities that the MQ-9 brings to the fight—from providing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance to conducting battle damage assessments to helping a ground element direct their fires to striking enemy targets with air-to-ground Hellfire missiles. In the course of a single flight, they transitioned between all of these tasks.

Listen to the full story below, and if you aren’t already subscribed to The Spear, be sure to do so on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, SpotifyTuneIn, or your favorite podcast app.

Image credit: Tech. Sgt. Chad Chisholm, US Air Force