The RPA Fix

Newly trained pilots just out of undergraduate flight training will be assigned to fly remotely piloted aircraft as a stopgap measure to relieve an RPA pilot shortage, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James announced. “We’ll have 80 undergraduate pilot training graduates over the next 12 months and they will be assigned to RPA positions … after that tour they’ll go on to another airframe,” James said at a July 15 event in Arlington, Va. The RPA schoolhouse is currently producing a little over half of the required number of RPA pilots, due to a shortage of instructors, thanks to the high operational demand for pilots. James said RPA operators are flying four times the amount that manned pilots do, logging an average of 850 to 900 flight hours annually. “They fly six days in a row and are away from their families about 13 hours a day,” she added. USAF also is implementing new incentive bonuses of $15,000 a year for five- or eight-year commitments, and petitioning Congress to reallocate $100 million in funding to address key RPA infrastructure and support needs, such as ground control stations, simulators, and facilities. The funds also would allow? USAF to hire additional civilian instructor pilots and speed technological developments, James said. Accelerating development of “automatic takeoff and landing will ultimately allow us to use fewer personnel in the launch and recovery part,” she explained. UPT graduates will begin shipping to RPA units in August and bonuses will take effect in 2016, she said. (See also RPA Relief Plans.)