Air Force Receives 185 Enlisted Applicants for RPA Pilot

Update: The Air Force selected 30 enlisted candidates for RPA training from this board.

The Air Force recently announced it had received 185 applications from enlisted personnel to fly the RQ-4 Global Hawk, the long range, high altitude, fly-by-keyboard unmanned aircraft. This marks the first time the Air Force has selected enlisted personnel to “fly” the UAVs.

“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,” [said Chief Master Sgt. Eric Rigby, the enlisted aircrew assignments chief at AFPC].

Some reports indicated the board — which met this week — would select only 30 of the applicants for training. The results are due to be released at the end of the month.



  • Anonymous Patriot

    Imbecilic program. The Global Hawk is an unnecessary, multibillion dollar waste of hard-earned cash. All it really does is: everything the E-3 Sentry does, but without a pilot.

    Now don’t give that “doesn’t put pilots at risk” bologna; pilots wouldn’t be at risk period if the cash the government wasted building these monstrosities was used to develop active camouflage, next-generation radar-absorbent material, and infrared-masking technology.

    Honestly, I am more worried about Russia and China hacking these things and turning them on us than I am about pilots getting shot-down. There were no operational casualties during the life of the U2 and SR-71; there is no doubt in my mind that there would be any today had the aforementioned countermeasures been developed.

    Now, don’t even get me started on the Navy’s variant, the MQ-4C Triton. That money-drain has been in the planning stage since 2011, with piss-poor progress. Now the Navy is saying, “Uuhhh…. it’s gonna be ready in 2023.” We probably could replace the entire P-3 Orion fleet with the P-8A Poseidon by the time the Navy is ready to field the Triton.

  • RPA/UAV’s have their place for missions that the senior staff determines the need, regardless of piloted aircraft capes. Development of active camouflage, next-generation radar-absorbent material, and infrared-masking technology is a lot more expensive than you might realize, but the tech is coming along…slowly. The SR71 was expensive to operate but did the job we needed until technology caught up to better capes, and the U2 is also a remarkable bird, and equally expensive.

    I’m delighted our enlisted personnel are getting into this world and allowing those officer/pilots to get back into the air. In the end, these enlisted troops still won’t “pull-the-trigger”; leaving that job to the intellectually superior Lt/Capt/Maj etc…

  • @Anonymous Patriot
    The Global Hawk is more akin to the U-2 than the E-3. And by “no operational casualties” I suppose you’re not including Gary Powers?

    @Delta One
    The SR-71 story from the Yom Kippur War — in which it flew over the entire region and everyone shot at it — is impressive.

    The RQ-4 operator is essentially a “systems manager” rather than a pilot. Still, he may have to make decisions any other pilot might in some situations. So it should be interesting.

    • Anonymous Patriot

      The Global Hawk is akin to an E-3, it is simply used more like a U-2. When I was referencing “no operational casualties” I meant that no pilot died while on a mission in the U-2 and SR-71; Francis Powers survived, so he doesn’t count. I’ll admit that I was unaware about Rudolf Anderson Jr.’s death in a U-2 over Cuba, and apologize for that. Regardless, my point still stands: one combat death in the U-2, and only a single training death in the SR-71 shows that there is a huge margin of safety in manned high-altitude spy planes. Furthermore, if the government spent a lot more on developing countermeasures than they do on wasteful UAVs and UCAVs, there’d be no spy plane pilots getting shot down.

      Furthermore, you didn’t address the hacking nor wastefulness:

      Human beings cannot be hacked, so by necessity and safety, manned aircraft needs to take precedence over unmanned systems. Iran has already hacked an RQ-170 Sentinel and shared its technology with Russia; I can only imagine the damage and lives lost if Russia, China, Iran, or India decided they wanted to hack a bunch of MQ-9 Reapers.

      The technology and resources used to develop the unmanned systems have been painfully slow and painfully expensive. I’ve just learned that the Navy has scrubbed the UCLASS. Think about it: years of development and countless $$$ completely down the toilet; all in the attempt to develop an asset that can do anything the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and F-35C Lightning II were already capable of doing with only difference being no pilot. Now the Navy is going to waste even more money trying to develop an unmanned aerial refueling craft instead of putting that money where it belongs: upgrading and maintaining our F/A-18s.

    • @Anonymous Patriot
      I’m not sure I’d agree there was a “huge margin of safety.” (For one thing, one site records 20 Blackbirds lost, and several associated deaths.) The reason there weren’t any more combat losses of the U-2 was because we recognized its limitations: it never again flew where it could be brought down by SAMS. It has, however, continued to kill pilots in training, including just last fall. Their “safety” records tend to be a reflection of how they were used, not their design.

      You are correct about the additional threats to unmanned aircraft. One last tidbit, though: The DoD learned a lot from the UCAV, and the US continues to do significant research — for both offensive and defensive reasons. Who’s to say we don’t have an outstanding UAV we just don’t publicly know about?