BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Six Airmen became the first Air Force recruits to graduate initial skills technical training as RQ-4 Global Hawk crew chiefs after completing Mission-Ready Airmen training here Feb. 10.
The RQ-4 Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft that provides global all-weather, day or night intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability.
Graduation is the culmination of months of training within the 82nd Training Wing at two bases. After completing basic military training, students head to Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, for aircraft fundamentals with the 362nd Training Squadron.
"I first found out that I was going to be assigned to the Global Hawk when I landed at Sheppard AFB and joined the mighty 362 Crew Dawgs (362nd Training Squadron)," said Airman Zavaien McBride. "At first I wasn't even sure what a crew chief was, but now I'm proud to embrace the crew chief way."
After completing fundamentals training, the Airmen headed to Beale AFB for Mission-Ready Airmen training with Detachment 21, 372nd Training Squadron. During this last stage of training, students receive RQ-4-specific training and are tested on their ability to apply what they've learned in an operational environment and earn their 3-level upon completion of the course.
According to instructor Tech. Sgt. Maureen Madamba, who was an F-15 crew chief before moving to the Global Hawk, these new RQ-4 graduates received a broader knowledge of airframe systems and components compared to traditional crew chiefs.
"These Airmen are expected to understand more than just landing gear and hydraulics theory of operation and components," she said. "They are also the electricians, fuels specialists, and engine technicians on the Global Hawk. They learn satellite communications, navigation systems, and basic fundamentals of imagery and signals intelligence."
It's a job the new graduates take seriously.
"The Global Hawk plays a vital role in communication and surveillance," said Airman Tomas Arredondo. "If I don't do my job, we lose our eyes and ears in the sky for the troops on the ground."
The additional skill sets the RQ-4 requires made developing the training program challenging, according to Tech. Sgt. William Murray -- not just for crew chiefs, but for all five RQ-4 specialties trained at the detachment.
"Building and maintaining training courses that reflect the different variants and payloads of the RQ-4 requires foresight and planning," Murray said. "Providing quality, up-to-date and relevant training to initial skills students as well as intermediate and advanced theory training to experienced students across five AFSCs is a constant challenge."
It's a challenge, however, that comes with significant rewards, said fellow instructor Tech. Sgt. Randy Thornsberry, Jr.
"I won't deny that I sometimes reminisce about my days as an F-16 crew chief," Thornsberry said, "but the RQ-4 Global Hawk is leading the way towards the airpower of the future. Knowing that I'm part of something that has been in the works for many years and will directly benefit Global Hawk operations around the world is amazing."
According to Detachment Chief Senior Master Sgt. Greg Schumacher, graduating the first “pipeline” crew chief class is an important milestone for the RQ-4 program as a whole because completing the pathway from basic military training graduate to mission-ready RQ-4 technician enhances the 9th Reconnaissance Wing's ability to perform its mission.
"This course means we can deliver mission-ready RQ-4 crew chiefs to our customer while significantly reducing their on-the-job training workload, ultimately strengthening the 9th Reconnaissance Wing's ability to effectively deliver globally integrated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for our nation,” he said. “That's what training is all about -- improving the effectiveness of our operational forces."
The graduates, meanwhile, look forward to being part of the future of the Air Force as well as an important part of its heritage.
"The Global Hawk is not only a beautiful aircraft, but it's the future of the Air Force," said Airman Bryan Mastrangelo. "It's an incredible feeling knowing that my fellow Airmen and I are going down in Air Force history."
The graduates will now move to operational assignments at Beale AFB and Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, but can expect to return to Detachment 21 in the future for upgrade, advanced and specialty training.