Pilots Heading Straight to UAV Assignments

The Air Force will for the first time this month begin assigning pilots directly to operational unmanned aerial vehicle units as first assignments. The short term goal is to increase the number of unmanned aircraft operators from 300 to 1,100, to meet combatant commander requirements. Currently, UAV pilots begin life as pilots of manned aircraft and are later shifted to UAVs. The growing demand for warm bodies has made that model unsustainable, however, and Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz announced the change Tuesday at AFA’s Air & Space Conference, saying 100 airmen a month may be headed direct to the UAV units upon completion of undergraduate pilot training. Schwartz said the priority will be to create a “strong and healthy” Air Force UAV career field, not “a leper colony.” Later, he said, the goal is to create an independent unmanned aerial vehicle operator career field independent of the regular pilot pipeline.