By Buddy Blouin
Despite every branch using drones to some degree, most drone pilots belong to the U.S. Air Force. Looking at the rank & job description of Air Force drone pilots, you’ll need to hold at least a rank of Second Lieutenant to qualify for the position. The average yearly salary of an O-1 Second Lieutenant is between $41,728 and $52,506, according to FederalPay.org. Learn more about one of the best ways to put your drone pilot license to good use.

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An Overview of Drone Pilot Salary Data

The amount you make as a drone pilot will vary depending on a number of factors, but these are primarily tied to your time serving and the rank you hold. For example, while Second Lieutenants are the entry rank for this position in the USAF, Majors can be drone pilots, as well. The UAV pilot salary of an O-2 First Lieutenant can range from $48,078 to $66,532 per year, while an O-3 Captain’s average salary can reach between $55,638 to $90,522 per year. An O-4 Major’s drone pilot salary can average between $63,284 and $105,664 per year due to their experience and the fact that they hold a higher rank. A basic pay scale applies to the U.S. military that's directly tied to your rank. Each person plays an important role in making sure that missions are a success, and the pay is reflected through its uniformity among troops. Drone pilot jobs are expected to remain in demand from the USAF for the foreseeable future. From intelligence to combat to search and rescue and more, as a UAV pilot, you help serve the United States in many critical ways. Sticking with this career path and working your way up the ranks can make your Air Force drone pilot salary turn into a six-figure career, all while giving back to your country.

Military Drone Pilot Salary vs. Civilian

A UAV drone pilot salary averages around $79,000 for civilians, meaning that drone pilot salaries seem to go a bit farther outside of the military. But there’s a lot more to consider than just a number when working as a UAV pilot in the Air Force:
  • Members of the military have many tax benefits. Most states will waive income tax, elevating your salary, and there are other benefits like housing allowances, tuition reimbursement, etc.
  • UAV pilot jobs for the USAF provide you with a wealth of experience that's applicable to civilian life yet not obtainable anywhere else but in the military.
  • Despite working thousands of miles away from your drone, there are still unique travel opportunities available to you when serving, which is a major consideration for some pilots.
The goals of each individual are unique unto themselves. This is why being a drone pilot in the military is a great path for some, but maybe not for others. Overall, serving the U.S. in this manner helps to save American lives and protect people throughout the globe who may otherwise be in harm’s way.

How To Become a Drone Pilot in the Air Force

Being a drone pilot in the USAF or Air Force Reserve requires many important qualifications. If you’re looking to command an MQ-9 Reaper, RQ-4 Global Hawk, or any other type of UAV, it’s important to know what you’ll need in order to qualify for the position. Here's an in-depth look at a remotely piloted aircraft pilot’s requirements and benefits:
  • A bachelor’s degree.
  • An understanding of air navigation, flying directives, meteorology, aircraft operation procedures, flight theory, and mission tactics.
  • Successful completion of UAV Air Force pilot training.
  • Graduation from either Officer Training School (OTS), Air Force Academy (AFA), or Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC).
  • You must complete a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI).
  • Must have started pilot training between the ages of 18 and 40 (waiverable).
  • Additional requirements may apply depending on the specialty of the position.
Your drone pilot salary is part of the equation, but pilots are gifted with much more than a paycheck. Serving your country with UAVs is one of the most unique ways to help America defend itself and its allies from enemies no matter where they try to hide.

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