By Dave Majumdar of the Air Force Times
The Air Force is still producing new pilots for unmanned aircraft, a spokeswoman said, although the service has dispatched its cadre of UAV instructors on combat missions.
“The basic training pipeline for Air Force Pilots, RPA [remotely piloted aircraft] Pilots and Sensor Operators is active,” Air Combat Command spokeswoman Kelly Sanders wrote in an emailed response to questions.
The training process for RPA pilots runs like this: After pilots receive their wings through one of two basic training programs, they enter a formal training unit to learn how to fly the aircraft they will operate in combat. They earn their basic qualification there, then depart for an operational squadron, where they undergo Mission Qualification Training and become combat-qualified.
“Students are going through the FTUs,” Sanders wrote. “However, due to operational security concerns we can’t discuss specific numbers.”
Sanders said operational squadrons are still training their new pilots.
“MQT is still being conducted,” she said.
On Nov. 2, Lt. Gen. Herbert Carlisle, the Air Force deputy chief for operations, plans and requirements, told lawmakers that the Air Force had sharply reduced its UAV training efforts and temporarily shut down the Weapons School’s UAV portion. Carlisle said the reason was that the instructor pilots had been sent to help meet the requirement to keep 60 UAVs flying over Iraq and Afghanistan at all times.
“Our issue today is our ability to train our sensor operators and pilots,” Carlisle told the House Armed Services Committee. “We’ve taken those instructor pilots who’re supposed to be training the next group of folks and we’re putting them in combat missions because we’re simply continuing trying to provide the combatant commanders with what they’re asking for.”
But he said the Air Force will likely have to reduce the number of UAVs it keeps aloft in combat zones in order to rebuild its ability to train new pilots. He said the service simply doesn’t have enough pilots for its growing fleet of drones.