Enlisted RPA pilots soar to new heights

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Tristan D. Viglianco
  • 9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs
The Air Force’s first three Enlisted Pilot Initial Class graduates are slated to complete their final phase of training requirements in July at Beale Air Force Base, California.

The graduates are now assigned to the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron where they will receive their basic qualification training, which is designed to equip them with the skills and knowledge they need to operate in the RQ-4 Global Hawk field.

“The training here is the culmination (of their year-long EPIC program). They have learned all of the basic skills they need to be pilots. Now we will be teaching them how to be Global Hawk pilots,” said Major Mason, the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron director of operations. “We have two different phases: basic qualification training and mission qualification training. BQT occurs in the simulator. Once they complete that, they move on to MQT, where they will fly a jet in operational scenarios to complete their training.”
The graduates are also the first Airmen to become enlisted pilots since former President John F. Kennedy took office in 1961. Due to a shortage of pilots and an increased demand for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, the Air Force has turned to its enlisted Airmen to fly the service’s remotely piloted aircraft.

Master Sgt. Alex, a 12th Reconnaissance Squadron student pilot, initially saw this as an opportunity he couldn’t pass up and jumped at the chance to fly the RQ-4, which he had previously been a sensor operator on. He applied to the program and was eventually selected as a member of the first class in the EPIC program.

“Someone (gave) me the opportunity and I don’t turn down great opportunities,” Alex said. “It was a challenge, which I wanted to accept, because I wanted to be a part of something bigger, and have a bigger impact.”

Alex left his home station at Beale and went to several installations around the country to receive his training and become flight certified. He began the EPIC program in October 2016, where he trained alongside 20 commissioned officers and two other enlisted students.

“I started Initial Flight Training in Pueblo, Colorado. I was there for four weeks and I learned the basic fundamentals of (aviation) by flying a Diamond DA20,” Alex said. “Then I went to Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas for Undergraduate RPA Training. There I trained on a simulator and learned aircraft controls and instrument flying.”

Alex hopes his efforts prove the Air Force made the right decision in calling upon enlisted Airmen to fly RPAs.

“I want to prove that enlisted personnel can perform the job as a pilot,” he said. “Hopefully, I can open doors to other jobs for enlisted personnel as well.”

Alex has enjoyed flying and the process of becoming a pilot. As he reaches the final stage of the training, he appreciates how far he has come in his career.

“When I first joined the Air Force, I was a maintainer, and I would always watch the pilots take off, wishing I could fly,” he said. “Then, I became a sensor operator, and I thought that was the closest I’d get to flying. So, when I’m up there flying, I think, ‘who would have thought A1C Alex would be flying in pilot training.’”