The first group of US Air Force student operators who have not completed the service's undergraduate pilot training (UPT) programme have graduated from the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper training course.
The new Reaper pilots are part of the USAF's new career field, designated 18X within the service's internal categorization, which is designed to train drone operators to fly unmanned aircraft without being trained as a manned aircraft pilot.
"There's extra time built into the syllabus to allow the students to get more practice, because they have to learn techniques they've never used before," says Lt Col Nathan Hansen, commander of the 29th Attack Squadron. "A significant difference and the reason why we can teach someone how to do this that doesn't have any prior aircraft experience, is because they will never come in contact with the Earth with the aircraft."
The 29th Attack Squadron only trains the new operators on the mission control elements of operating the aircraft. The unit does not train student on the launch and recovery aspect of flying an unmanned aircraft, Hansen says.