Why the Air Force will get more enlisted drone pilots
The second annual enlisted remotely piloted aircraft pilot selection board met last week to decide on the next enlisted airmen who will attend training and soon fly the RQ-4 Global Hawk.
The Air Force Personnel Center will decide on 40 new airmen — an increase from last year’s pool — out of 134 applicants by February, officials said.
“The board was held to select 40 Airmen total, including 30 primaries (same as last year) and 10 alternates (an increase of 5 from last year),” personnel center spokesman Mike Dickerson told Military.com.
“We increased the number of alternates to provide greater flexibility for covering any future contingencies,” Dickerson said in a statement.
Whether or not this leads to a gradual, annual expansion of airmen selected for RPA training isn’t definite right now, Dickerson said.
Last year, the board picked two senior master sergeants, five master sergeants, nine technical sergeants, 14 staff sergeants and five alternates from about 200 active-duty applicants from various job assignments.
“The Air Force plans for the number of enlisted RPA pilots to grow to 100 within four years,” according to a service release at the time.
There first 30 airmen and five alternates selected are currently scattered throughout the training pipeline, Capt. Beau Downey, spokesman for Air Education and Training Command, told Military.com.
“AETC currently has 15 RPA pilots in training. Eight are in RPA Instrument Qualification and seven are in RPA Fundamentals Course, both a part of the 558th Flying Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas,” Downey said in an email.
Meanwhile, there are 15 enlisted pilots who have attended or are in the process of completing the RQ-4 Formal Training Unit, or FTU, at Beale Air Force Base, California.
Downey said the program at Beale, under Air Combat Command, is broken into two phases: The first is Basic Qualification Training (BQT) and the second is Mission Qualification Training (MQT). Both phases culminate in a Form 8, or how one performs in his or her check ride.
“Students remaining at Beale for their operational assignment will complete both BQT and MQT at the Beale FTU,” he said.
There is also a segment at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota.
“Those students who will be assigned to Grand Forks [will] complete BQT at Beale and then move to the Grand Forks…for MQT,” Downey said.
ACC has graduated four enlisted pilots from the full program at the Beale unit. Another four completed Basic Qualification Training at the Beale FTU and have moved to the Grand Forks unit.
There are three currently in MQT at the Beale training unit and four in BQT. Of those four, two will remain at Beale and two will move to Grand Forks.
Another four enlisted airmen are scheduled to arrive at Beale at the beginning of February, Downey said.
The Air Force has expanded its RPA reach since it began training enlisted airmen on the RQ-4 Global Hawk. The service announced in 2015 it would begin training enlisted airmen to operate the unarmed high-altitude reconnaissance drone.
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