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 Read more
Update: The Air Force just released the results of the most recent selection board, indicating more than 300 enlisted troops had been chosen to begin the process to become RPA pilots.
Two Air Force Master Sergeants recently became the first enlisted Airmen in decades to solo during Air Force flight training:
Both soloed in a DA-20 Katana at Pueblo Memorial Airport as part of the Air Force’s IFT program, which is mandatory for all manned aircraft pilots, combat systems officers and remotely piloted aircraft pilots.
The Air Force announced Read more
Some people may have trouble getting into college (or the military academies), or they may get pressure from a recruiter to serve their country by enlisting. This is not the optimum way to become a fighter pilot.
Don’t get the wrong impression. There are many sharp troops, and the military would fail if it didn’t ride on the strength of the shoulders of its enlisted soldiers and airmen. The problem is that enlisted troops’ first priority is doing their job, and doing it well–it is not viewed as a “stepping stone” to a career as an officer. It’s not easy to get a college degree on the side, which is what some people think they’ll be able to do. If you have the option, it would probably be better to go to college on your own (paying your own way) than to enlist.
That said, if you do enlist or already have, there are some good options. The Montgomery GI Bill is an excellent way to get your college degree paid for–which is the first step to becoming an officer (and thus a pilot). (If you are offered the GI Bill option in basic training, though it may reduce your pay for awhile–take it.) The Air Force also has specific enlisted-to-officer programs, which include variations of the “Boot Strap” commissioning program and also reserved slots at the Air Force Academy. (See the “Leaders Encouraging Airman Development (LEAD)” program at USAFA.) Remember that you can’t have dependents if you want to go to the Academy, so you can’t be married (or divorced with dependents) or have kids, which may be easy to forget when you’re an independent adult as an enlisted airman.
Your best option is always to keep your commander and leadership informed of your desires. They want to see you succeed. If they know you want to become an officer, and you demonstrate your potential to them, they’ll help you in any way they can.
According to the Air Force Times, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Norton Schwartz has reiterated his position that only officers, not enlisted Airmen, will fly UAVs in the Air Force.
Tactical Army UAVs are flown by enlisted Soldiers, though Schwartz notes these are flown in short range, close in scenarios purely for mission support.
Currently, Air Force Predators are operated by an officer pilot and enlisted systems operator.