The US Air Force now allows any enlisted person to pilot a surveillance drone — not just officers

air force to allow enlisted pilots fly gobal hawk drones 140524 f xd880 018
U.S. Air Force
To help meet the rising demand for drone surveillance and reconnaissance, the United States Air Force just announced it now allows enlisted pilots (including non-officers) to fly in missions involving unmanned aircraft. Essentially, instead of narrowing the potential field of pilots strictly to commissioned officers, any enlisted Air Force pilot now has the ability to contribute to the USAF’s ongoing Global Hawk operations. Considered a “strategically vital mission,” it’s apparent the Air Force is doing all it can to assure a typically hard-to-staff area of its agency remains a thriving cog in the military machine.

Announced via a press release, the Air Force’s new initiative is intended to help boost surveillance efforts and create an innovative new approach to “high-demand missions.” Unlike other branches of the U.S. armed forces, the Air Force can’t easily maintain a large, active labor force — so this move to give enlisted pilots access to Global Hawk missions is designed to increase the number of available servicemen. Moving forward, the branch expects to increase its global drone efforts, thus opening the door for even more pilots.

“Our enlisted force is the best in the world and I am completely confident they will be able to do the job and do it well,” said Deborah Lee James, Secretary of the Air Force. “The RPA enterprise is doing incredibly important work and this is the right decision to ensure the Air Force is positioned to support the future threat environment.”

A U.S. Air Force Global Hawk
A U.S. Air Force Global Hawk U.S. Air Force

James later points out this isn’t the first time the Air Force has decided to allow enlisted personnel into an otherwise advanced area of its day-to-day happenings. Previously, with the branch’s space mission arena, the Air Force gave enlisted servicemen the go ahead to contribute to satellite operations, effectively increasing their responsibilities. So far, their implementation into the programs has been met with positive response, reportedly growing leadership opportunities and normalizing operations.

“We are taking action now to address future ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) needs,” said Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Mark A. Welsh III. “Not too long ago, we took the best of both officer and enlisted development tracks to lead the space mission. A similar model can be applied to our Global Hawk operations.”

An RQ-4 Global Hawk
An RQ-4 Global Hawk U.S. Air Force

The integration of enlisted pilots into the Global Hawk program isn’t expected to impact the current labor force of commissioned officers. As the Air Force moves forward and begins rolling out the initiative, it says it plans on remaining “deliberate in its approach,” focusing on education and learning to assure a high level of competency. Welsh says that if the enlisted pilots prove successful with the Global Hawks, it’s likely the agency introduces a similar approach for other weapons systems.

Branch flexibility and operational success notwithstanding, the Air Force is no doubt scrambling to address a serious need; it needs more drone pilots, plain and simple. With the Air Force offering $125k to any drone pilot who agrees to serve five more years, it’s clearly doing anything it can to retain a steady labor force. Considering drone operations — however controversial they may be — remain a pillar of the U.S. military, it’s not particularly surprising to see the Air Force pulling out all the stops to keep its programs functioning and its pilots satisfied.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: A.I.-powered cat toys, wallets, food containers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Emerging Tech

Death from above? How we’re preparing for a future filled with weaponized drones

Drones are beginning to enable everything from search & rescue, to the delivery of medicines to hard-to-reach places. But they are also being used as cheap, and deadly flying bombs. How can we defend ourselves?
Emerging Tech

From flying for fun to pro filmmaking, these are the best drones you can buy

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Emerging Tech

A Fitbit for your cat shit: Automatic litter box tracks your kitty’s health

It may look like a sci-fi teleportation chamber, but Footloose is a high-tech litter box that promises to be the most cutting-edge way for your kitty to take a dump. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

This 3D-printed house made of earth and rice husks costs less than an iPhone

Italian 3D-printing company WASP has just demonstrated the 3D printing of a hut structure using a combination of 3D-printed concrete and a mud-based material. All for around $1,000.
Emerging Tech

Behind the unsettling sci-fi landscapes of Simon Stalenhag’s ‘Electric State’

The narrative artbook follows the journey of a young traveler, Michelle, and her robot, Skip, as they head west to the Pacific coast through an alternative America torn apart by civil war and the trappings of military-grade virtual reality.
Emerging Tech

Scientists want to bore holes through clouds using lasers from satellites

Researchers at the University of Geneva in Switzerland have proposed a plan to use ultra-hot and ultra-short laser beams to punch through cloud layers and transmit information from satellites to Earth.
Emerging Tech

Get your head in the clouds with the best vaporizers for flower and concentrates

Why combust dead plant matter when you could vaporize the good stuff and leave the leaves behind? Here's a rundown of the best vaporizers money can buy, no matter what your style is.
Emerging Tech

Get one of the best cheap drones you can buy, and cry less when you crash

Want to get in on all this hot drone action, but don't want to spend half a paycheck to make it happen? There are actually lots of feature-packed budget options. Check out this list of the best drones under $500.
Emerging Tech

Here are the best (and least likely to explode) hoverboards you can buy

With widespread reports of cheap, knock-off Chinese hoverboards exploding, these self-balancing scooters may be getting a rough reputation. They're not all bad, though. Ride in style with our picks for the best -- and safest -- hoverboards
Product Review

Parrot Anafi drone review

It’s definitely not perfect, and there are a few little things that could be improved, but even so, Anafi is unquestionably the best drone that Parrot has ever made.
Emerging Tech

Looking for a good read? Here are the best, most eye-opening books about tech

Sometimes it's sensible to put down the gadgets and pick up a good old-fashioned book -- to read about the latest gadgets, of course. Here are the tech books you need to check out.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX Starlink: Here’s everything you need to know

SpaceX Starlink is the name of Elon Musk's ambitious plan to blanket the globe with high speed broadband internet via a network of satellites. Here's everything you need to know about it