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First group of enlisted Airmen complete RPA training program

Tech. Sgt. Mike, Master Sgt. Alex and Master Sgt. Mike stand next to a T-6A Texan II parked on the flightline at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, May 4, 2017. They completed undergraduate remotely piloted aircraft training May 5 and are the first Air Force enlisted Airmen to train as pilots since World War II. Master Sgt. Mike was a distinguished graduate in the URT class of 20 including 17 commissioned officers. (U.S. Air Force illustration/Tech. Sgt. Ave I. Young)

Tech. Sgt. Mike, Master Sgt. Alex and Master Sgt. Mike stand next to a T-6A Texan II parked on the flightline at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, May 4, 2017. They completed undergraduate remotely piloted aircraft training May 5 and are the first Air Force enlisted Airmen to train as pilots since World War II. Master Sgt. Mike was a distinguished graduate in the URT class of 20 including 17 commissioned officers. (U.S. Air Force illustration/Tech. Sgt. Ave I. Young)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas (AFNS) -- The first three NCOs have completed the Air Force’s undergraduate remotely piloted aircraft training program here May 5, 2017, and one was a distinguished graduate.

Master Sgt. Mike was in the top 10 percent of his 20 classmates academically and shared top honors. He is one of 12 enlisted candidates that were selected from the Air Force after Dec. 17, 2015, for a bold initiative called the enlisted pilot initial class. In EPIC, enlisted Airmen were included with commissioned officers during RPA pilot training.

In its 70 years as a separate service, the Air Force has relied almost exclusively on commissioned officers for its pilots.

Last November, as part of their initial flight training (IFT) near Pueblo Memorial Airport, Colorado, each student soloed a DA-20 Katana aircraft just like all other pilots, fellow RPA pilots, and combat systems officers.

Mike was the first EPIC student to solo at IFT and he was confident that fellow enlisted Airmen can succeed at IFT and URT.

“If there is something you really want, it’s achievable. You just have to put in the effort,” Mike said.

Mike and his classmates continued URT on Jan. 6, 2017, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph for the second and third phases of the pipeline that produces all Air Force RPA pilots. Phases 2 and 3 of URT lasted about four months and consisted of RPA instrument qualification and RPA fundamentals training.

“What makes this accomplishment even more extraordinary is the quality of the students who make up this URT class 17-10,” said Lt. Col. Jason Thompson, the 558th Flying Training Squadron commander, who is responsible for training pilots and sensor operators at JB San Antonio-Randolph.

Almost 90 percent of URT 17-10’s students are recent college graduates and one is the Air Force’s first RPA pilot physician, Maj. Joe. Second Lt. Brianna, Mike’s fellow distinguished graduate, is one of the best pilots to have completed URT in recent memory, Thompson said.

After URT, Mike and his fellow enlisted pilots Master Sgt. Alex and Tech. Sgt. Mike, advance to formal training at Beale Air Force Base, California, for a basic qualification course where pilots qualify on the RQ-4 Global Hawk. The Global Hawk is a long-duration intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance weapon system that supports missions worldwide.

The Air Force Personnel Center continues to plan and fill the RPA pilot training pipeline with enlisted Airmen and commissioned officers.

“There are a lot of opportunities that could become available to enlisted Airmen,” Mike said.

(Editor’s note: Only first names were given because the Air Force limits disclosure of identifying information to first names for all RPA pilots and sensor operators throughout their careers.)

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