Enlisted airmen may begin flying drones this year, general says

rq-4-global-hawk_007-ts600

Northrop Grumman

Enlisted airmen could be piloting the RQ-4 Global Hawk, the Air Force’s biggest drone aircraft, before the year is out, according to a senior Air Force official.

Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Lt. Gen. John Raymond told lawmakers on Tuesday that “starting in the end of FY ’16 or FY ’17 we’re going to begin the transition to enlisted RPA pilots for Global Hawk aircraft.”

That means the first enlisted airmen to pilot the high-altitude surveillance drone made by Northrop Grumman Corp. could be in place before the current fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

Raymond offered his remarks during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Airland Subcommittee, which is headed by Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James announced the move toward enlisted Global Hawk pilots just three months ago. They will fly the remotely piloted aircraft under the supervision of rated officers, she said.

Under questioning Tuesday by Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Raymond confirmed that only the RQ-4 would be piloted by enlisted personnel — at least for now.

“I grew up in Space Operations,” Raymond said. “Years ago we started out with engineer officers who flew the satellites, then went to operator officers — you didn’t have to have an engineering degree — and then we transitioned to enlisted operators.

“We’re taking a very deliberate approach to this,” he added. “We’re going to start with the Global Hawk. We’re very comfortable our enlisted airmen are going to be able to do that [mission].”

The Air Force then will look at the possibility of having enlisted airmen fly the MQ-1B Predator and MQ-9 Reaper, which carry out strike in addition to surveillance missions, Raymond said.

McCain, noting the Air Force has a shortage of rated officers, asked whether it would not have been better to start off using enlisted personnel.

“I wasn’t in this position or this job at the time, but it’s where we are,” Raymond said. “I think it was important that we have a capability. It was a technology demonstrator with significant growth and I think using the pilots we had to do that was a smart move at that time.”

TOP ARTICLES
This is the real reason John McCain's Liberty Medal speech was so epic

When US media focused on a jab at President Trump, they missed the parting thoughts of a veteran and public servant of more than 60 years.

This little bot can take a lickin' and keep on tickin' for troops on assault

Weighing a little over five pounds, the FirstLook can handle being thrown into a hostile environment.

This is one of the deadliest kamikaze attacks caught on film

Japanese kamikaze pilots struck fear in the hearts of allied troops as they conducted choreographed nose-dives right into U.S. warships during WWII.

This is what it was like fighting alongside Afghan troops

In nearly every war in which America has taken part, troops have had to work alongside local forces who aren't always very motivated to fight.

This is how AC/DC helped save a POW in Mogadishu

The ending of "Black Hawk Down" was just slightly different than Ridley Scott showed. It was a moment former POW Mike Durant would never forget.

Russia is buying more of these 'Fullback' fighter jets — and they're pretty impressive

The Russian Ministry of Defense says it just got four more SU-34 bombers, and they're impressive AF. We have the details and video for you here.

More than 100 killed in Taliban attacks across Afghanistan

The Afghan Defense Ministry is reporting over 100 Afghan deaths in October. The Taliban killed Afghan police officers and soldiers, and civilians.

The US Navy just launched an effort to built this is the super-stealthy submarine

The USS South Dakota — a Block-III Virginia Class attack submarine — has officially been christened. We have the details and how it compares to its peers.

This is how the War of Independence was won in the trenches

In order to beat the British at Yorktown, Gen. George Washington had to summon his inner groundhog and convince the French to soil their pretty hands.

This .50 cal machine gun fires twice as fast as the legendary Ma Deuce

The new Gatling-style GAU-19/B can send 1,300 rounds a minute downrange.