Air Force to Allow Enlisted to Fly Drones

Hearkening back to the days of the “flying sergeant,” the US Air Force will soon allow enlisted personnel to control RQ-4 Global Hawks:

“Our enlisted force is the best in the world and I am completely confident they will be able to do the job and do it well,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James…

The secretary and chief directed Air Combat Command to develop an implementation plan over the next six months to address items like entry requirements, training plans, career path development, delineation of duties, compensation details and an appropriate force mix. Implementation is focused on the Global Hawk community, not the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper force.

To be fair, the RQ-4 is a “fly by keyboard” drone: While it can be controlled, it is technically autonomous and instructions, when necessary, are sent via keyboard. This is in contrast to a remotely piloted aircraft, like the MQ-1/9s, whose flight control surfaces are directly operated by joystick.

This will be a fascinating decision to watch develop. Some have already said it will only further the hit to operator morale, as it implies (rightly or wrongly) a reduction in the qualifications necessary to be a UAS operator. Will these enlisted aviators earn wings? Acquire a 10-year service commitment? Qualify for the $125,000 bonus?

Could be interesting.