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Air Force offers bonuses up to $175,000 for drone pilots

Some airmen who fly remotely piloted aircraft can now receive an expanded retention bonus worth up to $175,000.

The critical skills retention bonus provides some RPA pilots $35,000 per year -- for a total of $175,000 -- if they agree to a five-year active-duty service commitment, or $35,000 for an additional year of commitment if they're already receiving a similar CSRB or aviation retention pay bonus. The Air Force said in a Friday release that the bonuses are now officially authorized, and airmen can search for information on eligibility and application processes on the myPers website.

To be eligible, drone pilots must be in the 18X RPA pilots, 11U pilots who started on manned aircraft and permanently transitioned to RPAs, 11X pilot, 12U RPA combat systems officers, or 13U RPA air battle manager career fields, and their undergraduate RPA or flying training commitments must be expiring in fiscal 2016 or 2017. The Air Force said the program will be retroactive for airmen whose commitment expired in 2016, and that applications for them must be submitted to the Air Force Personnel Center by Jan. 31, 2017.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James announced her plans to up the annual retention bonus for drone pilots from $25,000 during her State of the Air Force press conference in August. The larger bonus was mandated as part of the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act signed by President Obama in November 2015.

But the nine-year, $25,000 per-year bonus that used to net some RPA airmen as much as $225,000 is no longer an option under the new bonus system. And RPA pilots will not be able to receive a lump sum payment of 50 percent of the total value of their bonus up front, as some other pilots can receive.

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