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April 12, 2016

Willow Grove Air Station now center for military drone operation

Pilots flying unmanned aircrafts in combat missions from Montgomery County base

Previously all-but-empty due to military cuts, the former Willow Grove Naval Air Station in Montgomery County is now home to pilots of unmanned aircrafts flying missions over conflict zones in places like the Middle East.

That's according to a report from CBS3. The Horsham facility, which had its functions slashed by about 30 percent in 2010 and has appeared nearly abandoned since then, is now one of 12 centers around the country where pilots sit in simulated cockpits, operating MQ-9 Reapers in combat across the globe.

The former air base's new role started taking shape in 2013, according to the Morning Call, when the drone-flying operation was approved by the Air Force and the Pennsylvania Air National Guard.

The Navy left the base in 2011 following years of downsizing, leaving it mostly unused. Local lawmakers and community leaders had been rallying as far back as 2005 to stop the Pentagon from closing the base and eliminating local jobs.

Col. Michael Shenk told CBS he'd prefer no one knew about the new operation, but added it's important local residents get accurate information about what's going on at the base.