Ready to Fly

Rated to Fly: The Predator and Reaper operators that the Air Forces wants to churn out of its new UAV pilot training program starting next year (see below) will not be rated pilots in the service’s traditional sense of the phrase, but they will be qualified to fly and operate these multi-mission platforms safely and effectively, including in civil airspace, Brig. Gen. Darrell Jones, director of force management policy on the Air Staff, said Tuesday at AFA’s Air & Space Conference. During a briefing with reporters, Jones said the UAV operators that the Air Force has used to date have been rated pilots who have graduated from specialized undergraduate pilot training and are qualified to operate a certain type of manned platform such as an F-16.Under one facet of a new program, Jones said officers of various career fields and experience levels—but not flight experience—up through the rank of captain would be trained as UAV operators. The Air Force “will work the FAA issues” so that the new crop of UAV pilots “are able to operate the Predators in national airspace and meet all of the requirements that the FAA and international organizations would impose upon anyone who flies an aircraft of that size in their airspace,” he said. In the past, the Air Force has used only rated officers to operate its larger sized, multi-mission UAVs like Predator and Reaper since instrument-qualified pilots were necessary to fly in FAA- and ICAO-controlled airspace. Further, the Air Force held the view that rated officers were better prepared to deal with the demands of operating these complex systems under difficult battlefield conditions, including flying in proximity to manned aircraft and employing weapons in time-sensitive scenarios.