BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
Due to a shortage of pilots and an increased demand for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, the Air Force had to innovate and called upon enlisted Airmen to help supplement the number of pilots needed to meet our ISR demands by becoming remotely piloted aircraft pilots.
Master Sgt. Alex saw this as an opportunity he couldn’t pass up and jumped at the chance to fly the RQ-4 Global Hawk, which he had previously been a sensor operator on. He applied to the program and was selected as a member of the first class in the enlisted pilots program.
“Someone had given me the opportunity and I don’t turn down great opportunities,” said Alex, 12th Reconnaissance Squadron student pilot. “It was a challenge, which I wanted to accept because I wanted to be a part of something bigger, and have a bigger impact.”
In the process of becoming a pilot, Alex left his home station at Beale and went to several installations around the country to receive his training and become certified to fly. The training he received was the same training officers who are becoming pilots go through.
“The enlisted pilot program sends enlisted personnel through the same pipeline an officer remotely piloted aircraft pilot would go through,” he said. “I started Initial Flight Training in Pueblo, Colorado. I was there for four weeks and I learned the basic fundamentals of flying by flying a Diamond DA20. 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.”
Since completing training, Alex has returned to Beale for the last part of the training requirements. The training starts in early July and is designed to give the pilots the skills and knowledge they need to operate the RQ-4 in the field.
“The training here is the culmination, they have learned all of the basic skills they need to be pilots, and now we will be teaching them how to be Global Hawk pilots,” said Major Mason, 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.”
After completing the training, 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 takeoff 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.’”