USAF, RAF share experiences of fast-track UAV training

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The US Air Force and UK Royal Air Force have provided first details of their experiences in delivering fast-track training services for unmanned aircraft system pilots, with both saying that additional work is required to meet operational demands.

Initial USAF efforts to prepare new pilots and sensor operators for remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) have shown that students lack situational awareness and mission management experience, says Jeffery Wiseman, chief of the Air Education and Training Command's (AETC) UAS training branch.

A so-called beta trial was launched in January 2009 to pass candidates with no prior pilot or aircrew experience through the USAF's training pipeline for the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper/Predator B. The first of these completed limited flying training last August, and some have now flown supervised combat sorties over Afghanistan.

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 © Craig Hoyle/Flight International

In response to the operational shortcomings identified so far, the air force intends to increase pilot instruction from the current 18h flown at San Pueblo, California to reach the equivalent of a private pilot's licence, including instrumented flight rating. "We want them to be credible aviators," Wiseman says.

Additional instruction will be provided at Randolph AFB, Texas, using simulators for the Beechcraft T-6 turboprop, and new desktop trainers for the Reaper will also be available from August.

Wiseman says 111 RPA pilots and 25 sensor operators had received instruction using the new system by December 2009, including those from two beta courses. The AETC is awaiting a decision to potentially increase its intake to 10 students a month, he says, with a goal of reaching 250 annually by fiscal year 2013.

However, Wiseman says he is "concerned that we have not got the capacity to support the training demand as it grows", unless additional capacity is put in place.

Meanwhile, an RAF trial dubbed "Daedalus" has encountered difficulties in satisfying US crew requirements for the Reaper, says Sqn Ldr Tony Sumner from the Central Flying School's flying training development squadron.

Two students with no previous flying experience logged 35h on the Grob G115 Tutor and six weeks of simulator work on the Shorts Tucano T1, but will only be permitted to transition onto the Predator: a type which the USAF intends to retire by fiscal year 2015.

 
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However, the first of two UK pilots sourced after completing training on the BAE Systems Hawk T1 began transitioning to the Reaper in February under a three-year detachment to Creech AFB, Nevada.

"Our goal is to establish a sustainable UAS cadre and reduce demands on the manned pilot cadre," Sumner told IQPC's Military Flight Training conference in London.