An Extra Incentive

The Air Force is holding out an additional carrot to entice upcoming pilot training graduates to volunteer for unmanned aerial vehicle duty: A second chance to be selected for fighters at the end of their UAV tour. According to Maj. Randal Walker, part of a team sent to Laughlin AFB, Tex., to explain the Air Force’s new plan to send 10 percent of its pilot-trainee crop to fly UAVs for three years and then to move into manned aircraft, those pilot training graduates who initially are slated to go into airlift or tanker aircraft might instead get fighters or bombers. “I’m not promising anything,” said Walker from the Air Force Personnel Center, but he noted that the aircraft track identified at completion of specialized undergraduate training will not necessarily be binding three years later, when service needs may have changed. Air Combat Command’s UAV branch chief, Lt. Col. Race Bannon, emphasized the cutting-edge aspect of UAV operations, saying it’s “not slowing down.” He added, “One day, I believe we can expect to see entire [unmanned aerial system] wings; there will need to be commanders for those wings and squadrons.” The Air Force unveiled its plan to rapidly increase the number of UAV operators last month and just last week issued basic criteria for another part of the plan, taking non-pilot candidates. The service expects to double the number of UAV pilots, now about 450, over the next couple of years. (Includes Laughlin report by SSgt. Austin May)