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The Air Force sees a record number of drone pilot applicants

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A RQ-4 Global Hawks sits in a hangar as Airmen prepare to install parts Oct. 29, 2015, at Beale Air Force Base, California. The aircraft being worked on recently arrived at Beale to conduct a non-destructive inspection. Beale is used as the maintenance depot for the U.S. Air Force’s RQ-4 fleet. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ramon A. Adelan)

By Tracy Fuga

Enlisted airmen eager to become drone pilots should find out by the end of February if they have been selected to begin intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance training. A high tempo of operations has put drone operations in demand around the globe.

The first enlisted remotely piloted aircraft pilot selection board met earlier this month to deliberate and choose from nearly 200 active-duty enlisted airmen who made it past an initial qualifying phase of the program, according to a release.

It is anticipated that the board will select 30 airmen with five alternates, according to an Air Force spokesman. The results are expected within the next few weeks.

Two airmen from that board are expected to begin the Initial Flight Training program at Colorado’s Pueblo Memorial Airport by April. Subsequently, two enlisted airmen will be part of each class thereafter throughout this fiscal year and into early next fiscal year.

“Integrating enlisted pilots into the RQ-4 [Global Hawk] community enables the Air Force to meet mission requirements as the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission grows, while providing an opportunity to our highly skilled enlisted force,” said Chief Master Sgt. Eric Rigby, enlisted aircrew assignments chief at AFPC.

The Air Force announced in 2015 it would begin training enlisted airmen to operate the unarmed RQ-4 Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), aka drones.

The center saw a surge of interest from potential RPA airmen during the application process that began last year, AFPC said. It received more than 800 applicants, compared with the typical 200 applicants it normally receives.

“Expanding opportunities in the RPA program is one of many ways the Air Force is tapping into the talent of our skilled, diverse and innovative enlisted force,” Rigby said.

The enlisted RPA selection board mirrors that of the undergraduate flying training program as closely as possible and will look at each applicant’s entire military record.

“This ‘whole person’ concept provides the measure of an applicant's aptitude for success in RPA pilot training,” he said.


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