U.S. Air Force enlisted personnel will be able to fly the remotely-piloted vehicles commonly known as drones, officials announced today. The idea has been kicked around for many years in one form or another, but the recent drone pilot crisis seems to have finally made the Air Force change its ways.

This new initiative will be tested within the RQ-4 Global Hawk community, whose pilots really don’t “fly” the aircraft at all: they direct it via desktop interface more than anything else. Still, this is a big step for the USAF which has for decades kept the flying excursively to its officer corps.

The RQ-4 is purely a surveillance platform and is unarmed, but still the USAF says that we should not expect armed drones to remain solely in the hands of officers either. This first step with the Global Hawk will help inform USAF leadership if they should continue to blend enlisted pilots with officers in other remotely piloted aircraft communities..

As part of an emerging cocktail of measures the USAF is taking to fortify and re-energize its fledgling drone operator force, they are offering a whopping $125,000 bonus to pilots that stay on another five years. This relatively large incentive just underscores how deep a hole the flying service has dug with its drone operators.

The addition of enlisted personnel to the RPA pilot corps is the right move for the USAF to make, even if it is in a limited form to begin with. As unmanned systems become an increasing integral part of America’s air combat arsenal, such a move may not only be logical but absolutely necessary.

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And seeing that civilian contractors are allowed to fly RPAs for the USAF, there is no reason why talented enlisted personnel should not be given the same opportunity.


Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.

Photos via USAF