An all-enlisted remotely piloted aircraft crew manned the RQ-4 Global Hawk out of Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates last month — signifying the first time a team composed only of enlisted airmen operated the aircraft downrange.

“Enlisted or officer, the responsibilities of the pilot are the exact same – safe and legal operation of the RQ-4 in international and national airspace,” said Master Sgt. Michael in an Air Force news release. “We are all trained and expected to demonstrate proficiency at all times. There’s no difference between ‘us and them.’ We are pilots, plain and simple.”

Michael, the 380th Expeditionary Operations Group Detachment 1 operations superintendent and pilot, said the Sept. 13 operation highlighted enlisted airmen’s competence piloting the unarmed reconnaissance drone.

“It shows that with high level training, rank does not matter, only ability,” Michael said.

It’s not typical for all-enlisted crew to occur within Detachment 1, although it has happened before, the Air Force said.

The Air Force first announced in December 2015 that it would open up flying the RQ-4 Global Hawk to enlisted airmen. The policy change designated the first time enlisted airmen could pilot aircraft since World War II, when the service was still part of the Army.

In May 2017, the first three enlisted airmen graduated from undergraduate RPA training at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Air Force Base in Texas. By 2020, the service says it is aiming to have a total of 100 enlisted RPA pilots.

According to the Air Force, it was “only a matter of time” that an all-enlisted crew of RPA professionals would conduct operations in theater.

“This demonstrates the capabilities and leadership of the enlisted force, both in preparing the mission and executing it,” Michael said.

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