Pentagon & Congress

RPA pilots are getting more respect in flying world

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. —Col. Ray Alves flew F-16s over Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq. But since then, he has trained to "fly" Now he "flies" remotely piloted aircraft. from his post here with Air Combat Command. // he transitioned into flying MQ-1s not long ago, but now he's just advising ACC staff on drone programs. He doesn't really fly all that much with the new staff post - the last time was sometime in 2012//OP

"There's no difference differentbetween what I wanted to do in an F-16 [versus] what I wanted to do in an MQ-1 when it came time to prosecute a target," he said.

The guys RPA pilots like Alves, who are known throughout the Air Force as the airmen who "play on video game consoles," are starting to make their way to the cool(er) kids' table.

After The perception of remotely piloted aircraft pilots has had some dynamic shift over theyears of wrestling with the term "real pilots" and still pushing for a medal to recognize their work, these pilots are seeing a cultural shift. Part of the reason is or if their work deserves medal recognition — but pushing some of theformer manned pilots of manned aircraft like Alves are who are older through the ranks and cross-training them into the RPA world might be what's changing the conversation, said Col. Ray Alves, a UAV pilot who works on staff for Air Combat Command.

"When I sit down with my former colleagues who are still flying fighters ... they don't ... sneer at me," Alves told reporters Nov. 17. He now advises the MQ-1 program for Air Combat Command here.

As of last December, there were more than 1,360 drone pilots operating almost 65 combat air patrols, falling short of the projected 1,650 pilots needed to oversee such a high demand of CAPs by fiscal 2017, according to a Government Accountability Office GAOreport released in April.

But a Brookings Institution report published in last August 2013 THIS IS AUG. 2013?//YES//OP for the Brookings Institution by Air Force Col. Brad Hoagland, who served as the director of operations for the White House Military Office, had some units rethink their strategy for not only bringing in more pilots, but bringing in more experienced pilots.

The Air National Guard's 178th Fighter Wing, for example, recruited experienced manned pilots, which saved the unit "both time and money," Col. Bryan Davis, commander of the wing's 178th Reconnaissance Group, told the Dayton Daily News in Ohio last year.

And iIt's that melding of different pilot backgrounds that's changing the conversation and culture around remotely piloted aircraft.

"When I sit down with my former colleagues who are still flying fighters… they don't'…sneer at me," Alves told reporters Nov. 17.

During the Nov. 17 briefing, Alves, who flew F-16s over Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq, sat next to fellow pilot Col. Kyle Robinson, a former B-1 and F-15 pilot now at the Pentagon directing an Air Force strategic studies group. Both wore sat adorned with their bomber jackets overtop of their flight suits during the briefing.

A lot of what fighters and bombers do "Because of a lot of what they do, flying the fighters, bombers, whatever, it relies on what's being done with the Predators and Reapers," Robinson said.

"The [RPA UAV pilots] are the ones doing the yeoman's work day in and day out. All the targets we [fighter and bomber pilots] FIGHTER AND BOMBER PILOTS?//YES//OP go and hit, they come from someplace. ... sSo the realization is we cannot do our job without that going on," Robinson said. of the pilot-to-UAV pilot relationship

The culture shift also comes in lock step as technology advances, Robinson said.

Alves said tThe strikes produce results regardless of which aircraft does the job, Alves said.

"There's no different between what I wanted to do in an F-16 [versus] what I wanted to do in an MQ-1 when it came time to prosecute a target," he said

Alves said hHis shift from flying an F-16 to an MQ-1 — which for him happened in a matter of a week — was "not that tactically different," he said. HE CROSS TRAINED IN A WEEK? DID HE SEEK CHANGE?//He went from being one type of pilot to another in a matter of a week, that's all he said. he did not say why he went into it//OP

"It's a shift in techniques, how you fly ... but the tactics in how we think, that strike piece, ... it's the same feeling of getting ready to execute a strike in an F-16 in support of dudes on the ground, it's the exact same feeling I got in an MQ-1," he said.

Both strikes STRIKES?//SURE//OP hit the spot, emotionally and literally speaking, Alves said. And just as for like manned pilots, the job can this doesn't mean it can't affect RPA pilots themin the long term, too.

The Defense Department in February 2013 proposed a early last year wanted to create the Distinguished Warfare Medal to recognize RPA UAV pilots, offensive cyber war experts or others directly involved in combat operations but not physically in theater. Combat veterans were outraged by the new medal's rank in the official Order of Precedence that placed it above the Bronze Star. After Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel took over the Pentagon's top job the same month in late February, he took the unusual measure of overturning his predecessor's decision and eliminated the medal.

The medal, ranking just below the Distinguished Flying Cross, was quickly quashed in March.WHY? >> partly from backlash from veterans and troops, but Hagel ordered a review and in the end, deemed it an unnecessary medal//OP

"Right now, the Air Force says they don't WORD MISSING? equate — physical risk does not equate to the same level of medals, and I will say that in some instances that's probably true," Alves said.of UAV CAN WE CALL THEM RPA INSTEAD OF UAV? pilots being recognized for their work. // yea we can say RPA, but he kept saying, I call myself a UAV pilot, "I say UAV not RPA"- he didnt say why he classifies it that way either//OP

"I'll also say there are some instances out there where an MQ-1, an RPA pilot, did something to save lives on the ground, which may or may not have been able to be done by a manned platform. To not be recognized for something that brought home American soldiers, I think, is not the right way to do business."

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