The U.S. Air Force has announced that it has recently selected the first 10 enlisted Airmen to attend RQ-4 Global Hawk Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) pilot training. The first combined enlisted and officer training course will begin October 2016, with the first enlisted Airmen expected to graduate in 2017.
“We’re opening the RQ-4 career field to enlisted pilots for the first time,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. “We’ll take this important step in a deliberate manner so that we can learn what works and what we’ll need to adjust as we integrate our highly capable enlisted force into flying this weapons system. The intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission continues to grow in importance and our enlisted force will be central to our success.”
The initiative to incorporate enlisted pilots is the first step to developing future operating concepts within the multi-domain intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance enterprise. The Global Hawk is the most stable remotely piloted aircraft community and presents an opportunity now to integrate enlisted Airmen in RPAs to posture the force for dynamic future operating environments.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein also weighed in on the importance of the ISR enterprise to the joint force.
“Looking at new ways to operate within our RPA enterprise is critical given that ISR missions continue to be the number one most requested capability by our combatant commanders. We expect that will only continue to expand,” Goldfein said. “We know our enlisted Airmen are ready to take on this important mission as we determine the right operational balance of officer and enlisted in this ISR enterprise for the future.”
“We have been taking a hard look at the ISR enterprise and ways to maximize what our amazing Airmen can do in support of this mission,” said Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the commander of Air Combat Command. “There is no doubt that the challenges of meeting incredible demands for ISR with a small force requires solutions that make the best use of our talented enlisted corps.”
Enlisted pilots will undergo the same rigorous Air Force training as current RPA pilots with respect to flight training, rules, and responsibilities.
The new enlisted pilots will begin their Undergraduate RPA Training with the RPA Initial Flight Training where they will learn to fly a DA-20 Falcon. From there they will attend RPA Instrument Qualification and Fundamentals Courses before finishing with Global Hawk Basic Qualification Training. At the conclusion of this training they will be rated, instrument qualified pilots who are Federal Aviation Administration certified to fly the RQ-4 in national and international airspace and mission qualified to execute the high altitude ISR mission.
“There has never been a doubt that our enlisted corps could step up and accomplish this mission for our Air Force,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Cody. “We’ll certainly see that as the first enlisted Airmen go through the training. They will set the tone for the future of the RPA enterprise.”
The training plan could see 12 Enlisted Pilot Initial Class graduates in fiscal 2017, 30 in fiscal 2018, 30 in fiscal 2019, and 28 in fiscal 2020. In 2020, approximately 70 percent of those flying day-to-day missions in the RQ-4 are expected to be fully trained enlisted pilots.