For the first time since 1961, two enlisted airmen have completed solo flights during their initial flight training.
The master sergeants -- identified only by their first names, Alex and Mike -- flew on their own in a DA-20 Katana on Nov. 3 at Pueblo Memorial Airport in Colorado. They are two of the first four enlisted airmen to begin training to fly the RQ-4 Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft as part of the 1st Flying Training Squadron there.
The first enlisted solo flights in decades mark a major milestone in the Air Force's effort to expand the ranks of RPA pilots to include enlisted airmen. The first four Enlisted Pilot Initial Class, or EPIC, students are training alongside 20 recently-commissioned officers, and they will be followed by eight more enlisted airmen in two subsequent classes over the next few months.
In a Nov. 4 release, the Air Force Education and Training Command said that one of the first two pilots in the Army Air Corps in 1912 was a corporal, and the Air Force's Cadet Aviation Program -- which ran through 1961 -- allowed enlisted airmen to earn their commissions after finishing the program.
Perhaps the most famous enlisted pilot of all time was Chuck Yeager, who flew in World War II and later became a celebrated test pilot and brigadier general. Thousands more enlisted pilots served in both World Wars, the Air Force said.
"It's a great opportunity that we're getting enlisted pilots back into the full force," Master Sgt. Mike, who was the first to fly, said in the release. "There are a lot of opportunities that could become available to enlisted airmen."
The Air Force said Mike started his 17-year career as a security forces airman and was a maintainer before being accepted to the RPA pilot training program.
Master Sgt. Alex said in the release that he now understands why his instructors were tough on students in initial flight training.
"Instructors are seeing if you can handle the stress of being able to make your radio calls on time, maintain proper altitude, contacting all your approaches and departures, hitting the right waypoints, getting to where you need to go. They put you in a lot of stressful situations so that when you get out there you can handle it."
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Defense News. He previously reported for Military.com, covering the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare. Before that, he covered U.S. Air Force leadership, personnel and operations for Air Force Times.