Air Force May Select First Enlisted Drone Pilots This Month

Avionics specialists with the 12th Aircraft Maintenance Unit prepare a Global Hawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for a runway taxi test at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force/Stacey Knott)
Avionics specialists with the 12th Aircraft Maintenance Unit prepare a Global Hawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for a runway taxi test at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force/Stacey Knott)

Enlisted airmen hoping to become drone pilots may find out by the end of this month if they have been selected to begin intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance training.

The first enlisted remotely piloted aircraft pilot selection board met last week to deliberate and choose from 185 active-duty enlisted airmen who made it past an initial qualifying phase of the program, according to a release.

"We anticipate the board will select 30 airmen with five alternates," Air Force Personnel Center spokesman Mike Dickerson told Military.com on Monday. The board is still "in coordination," but the results are expected soon, he said.

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

"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.

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The AFPC said in November that 305 active-duty enlisted airmen had been identified to apply for the selection board.

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

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"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 in the release.

Through a separate program, officials in September touted that the Enlisted Pilot Initial Class, or EPIC, would begin Oct. 12 with four of 12 total students training alongside 20 recently commissioned officers. The second group started training in January; the third will begin training in March.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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