I noticed today that the news folks were all hyped up that a enlisted NCO in the Air Force....was made a legit pilot.
The basic story? Around fifteen years ago....the Air Force bought into the unmanned reconnaissance aircraft deal. This meant that some ground-pilot was sitting in a leather-chair....somewhere in the Vegas region....and running through a 12-hour mission, via satellite control of the vehicle.
From day one....the attitude was that this can only be done by pilots....real Air Force pilots. They sat there and forced a huge number into the program. Months of training involved and hostile pilots angry over the ground job which wasn't what they signed up for. It took basically a year or two....for the Air Force to realize that they had a long-term problem. To add some incentive to it....they rigged up fighters to be arranged at Nellis, and the pilots got to keep their certification by occasionally flying (just enough to meet the rules).
About six years ago, the problem became burn-out because of the long hours and new missions involving attack unmanned reconnaissance vehicles. At some point, they discussed the idea of contractor-pilots being brought in....but the ethics people said that was a bad idea.
So some idiot finally stood up and suggested enlisted guys. A number of people tried to voice negativity over this, but the arguments usually fell apart.
I got into a discussion back a dozen years ago with a couple of Air Force folks in my old office....that my 14-year old son (the gamer) could be a qualified pilot in thirty days, and he'd do it just for the case of Mountain Dew required for each mission, and a hundred bucks a mission. Most everyone there agreed that it made perfect sense to open up the door to enlisted people.
So, it finally happened. TSgt Courtney (came into the AF in 2005) is now a certified unmanned recon vehicle pilot.
My gut feeling is that over the next decade....at least four-hundred enlisted guys and gals will come to be certified as unmanned vehicle pilots.
The general rule to this effort? It appears that you need to show more than a few years of work on your 'resume' and at least a CCAF degree (a two-year degree). The idea of a junior airman just showing up after boot-camp and getting into the program? Zero chance.
Will there be a ratio ceiling on this? No more than 10-percent or 30-percent being enlisted? Maybe behind all of the secret rules, there's likely to be some standard in place for the next five years. But if you asked me to look a decade ahead....I think that 90-percent of the unmanned vehicle pilots will eventually be enlisted.
But I have this one single question on my mind. When TSgt Courtney reaches the 20-year point (nine years away), and walks away.....what exactly is there for some future employment chance for an enlisted unmanned vehicle pilot? Or are we viewing the future of commerce where hundreds of unmanned vehicles exist in the US, and this group simply shifts over to the next day easily?
Length of the tour? This is one odd aspect. Most will say that there was a rule in place for four years of unmanned vehicle pilot service. Then you moved on. Will that be extended? Unknown.