While you previously had to be able to fly a plane to be a pilot in the Air Force, the service now may be more focused on your ability to operate a drone.
Need proof of the changing needs of the job market? Look no further than the U.S. Air Force, where for the first time, there are more jobs open for MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drone pilots than for any other kind of pilot position. As the head of Air Education and Training Command, Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, told reporters during a media roundtable at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida, “I never thought I’d say that when I joined the Air Force.”
As drones take on an increasingly important role in the armed forces, demand for RPA (remote piloted aircraft) operators has also grown. As Military.com points out, the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper family of remotely piloted aircraft are expected to require more than 1,000 pilot operators, as per fiscal 2017 statistics. But only 889 airmen are needed to pilot the C-17 Globemaster III, and that’s the highest number of any other aircraft.
The Air Force has been preparing for this shift in focus for quite some time now, first announcing that it would begin training enlisted pilots to work with reconnaissance drones like the RQ-4 Global Hawk in 2015. But as plans move forward, the military branch is hoping to also train more armed drone operators, and plans to set up new operational centers for these sorts of drones in the coming months and years.
“Expanding opportunities in the RPA program is one of many ways the Air Force is tapping into the talent of our skilled, diverse, and innovative enlisted force,” Chief Master Sgt. Eric Rigby, enlisted aircrew assignments chief said in a press release last month.
So if you’re looking for a career in the United States Air Force, it may not be bad idea to start looking into drone operation as your ticket in the door.