No, The Air Force Isn’t Really Bringing Back Enlisted Pilots

news
A weapons loader assigned to the 180th Fighter Wing, Ohio Air National Guard, salutes as 180FW F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot.
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Beth Holliker.

Enlisted airmen may be taking to the skies, and this time they’ll be in the pilot’s seat — for a little while, at least. The Air Force plans on launching an all-volunteer pilot training program on Feb. 15, 2018, that will include enlisted airmen as well as commissioned officers, Air Force Times reported Dec. 6.


But, don’t break out the bubbly just yet. In a November internal email, 2nd Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Timothy Leahy announced that only 15 officers and five enlisted airmen would be selected for the six-month training program, titled the Pilot Training Next Initiative. 

A copy of the email first surfaced publicly Dec. 6 on an unofficial Facebook page for current and former enlisted airmen.

“Enlisted volunteers will be pioneers in innovating Air Force aviator recruitment, selection, and training processes by demonstrating the potential of non-college graduates to succeed in a rigorous pilot training environment,” Leahy wrote.

The letter suggests that, far from a return to the days of “flying sergeants,” the training initiative is less about teaching enlisted airmen to fly and more about fielding new techniques to see how quickly service members can be taught a new career field. And what better place to start than something as complicated, and desperately needed, as aviation, considering the service has been grappling with a severe pilot shortage?

“We’re starting with pilot training because we have such a huge need for pilots,” Marilyn Holliday, a spokeswoman for Air Education and Training Command, told Task & Purpose. “This study is not looking at changing our pilot force, but rather it is exploring new ways to effectively and efficiently deliver training.”

Related: Here’s 2 Solutions To The Air Force’s Pilot Retention Problem »

In recent years, the service was hit with a “quiet crisis” as scores of pilots left the ranks, run down by a grueling optempo, lowered flight hours, and lured away by the prospects of better pay following a commercial airline hiring blitz. The protracted retention problem left the airpower-centric service 1,500 aviators short — roughly 1,000 of them fighter pilots — by April of this year, Business Insider reported in October.

Currently, only commissioned officers (the Air Force does not have warrant officers) are eligible to serve as pilots, which puts a four-year college-degree barrier in front of would-be sky jockeys. According to the email, Leahy and his staff have identified 250 possible candidates for the initiative. The deadline to apply online is Dec. 15, after which point eligible applicants will undergo a series of tests before the final  personnel are selected.

The training plan is designed to provide information to the Air Education Training Command, “on the potential for enlisted members to train to fly modern combat aircraft,” the email notes, and will culminate with the airmen taking a solo flight in a T-6A, a single engine turboprop aircraft the service uses to train aviators.

A T-6A Texan II, typically used during the Air Force's Undergraduate Pilot Training program.U.S. Air Force photo

The experimental course takes about half the time as Undergraduate Pilot Training — a yearlong basic aviation course — however, graduates are expected to measure up to their peers who make it through the traditional program.

"The plan for this six-month program is to explore the technology available to produce a student, similarly-skilled to a UPT graduate," Holliday said. "Since the program is in its early stages, results will need to be reviewed. Although we’re excited about the potential of this program, at the end of six months, if the officer student is not prepared to move on to the next stage of training, we will determine the appropriate placement in traditional UPT."

After passing the course, the officers selected for the program will earn their pilot’s wings and go on to more specialized training. As for the rank-and-file airmen?

“On the enlisted side, they’re coming from basic training, and then going into this program, and then they would go back to their specialty they were chosen for during basic training,” Holliday said. “They’ll have flying hours to go toward civilian pilots’ licenses if they choose.”

As part of the initiative, the Air Force will stand up a training detachment in Austin, Texas, where instructors will use new tech like virtual reality and a heavy reliance on data and analytics professionals to train students.

“The intent is to have groups of students with different learning backgrounds to find out how different technologies can be effective for different types of learners,” Holliday told Task & Purpose. “Our focus is on how Airmen learn, not necessarily what they learn, exploring  technology and how that technology can produce better and faster learning.”

The program is currently in its pilot stage, but if it proves viable, it could be used to spool up airmen on other military specialities, though what those could be is still unclear. “We use the word pioneer, and honestly that’s exactly what they are.” Holliday said.

It’s unclear at this point if the new training initiative might herald a return to the days of enlisted aviators — and what that could mean for the service, considering the pay differences and the dichotomy that could emerge between officer and enlisted aviators, divided by salary and position, doing the same job side-by-side.

The news comes a year after the service graduated its first enlisted drone pilots following a lengthy period of study amid plans to expand its fleet of enlisted drone operators, Air Force Times reports. However, when it comes to piloting armed unmanned vehicles, like the MQ-9 Reaper, the price of admission is still a bachelor’s degree — and that remains the case with aviators for now.

WATCH NEXT:

New London — Retired four-star general John Kelly said that as President Donald Trump's chief of staff, he pushed back against the proposal to deploy U.S. troops to the southern border, arguing at the time that active-duty U.S. military personnel typically don't deploy or operate domestically.

"We don't like it," Kelly said in remarks at the Coast Guard Academy on Thursday night. "We see that as someone else's job meaning law enforcement."

Read More Show Less
Photo: Iran

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

Yemen's Houthi rebel group, part of a regional network of militants backed by Iran, claims to be behind the drone strikes on two Saudi oil facilities that have the potential to disrupt global oil supplies.

A report from the United Nations Security Council published in January suggests that Houthi forces have obtained more powerful drone weaponry than what was previously available to them, and that the newer drones have the capability to travel greater distances and inflict more harm.

Read More Show Less

Editor's Note: This article by Matthew Cox originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The U.S. Air Force has selected two companies to make an extreme cold-weather boot for pilots as part of a long-term effort to better protect aviators from frostbite in emergencies.

In August the service awarded a contract worth up to $4.75 million to be split between Propel LLC and the Belleville Boot Company for boots designed keep pilots' feet warm in temperatures as low as -20 Fahrenheit without the bulk of existing extreme cold weather boots, according to Debra McLean, acquisition program manager for Clothing & Textiles Domain at Air Force Life Cycle Management Command's Agile Combat Support/Human Systems Division.

Read More Show Less

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran rejected accusations by the United States that it was behind attacks on Saudi oil plants that risk disrupting world energy supplies and warned on Sunday that U.S. bases and aircraft carriers in the region were in range of its missiles.

Yemen's Houthi group claimed responsibility for Saturday's attacks that knocked out more than half of Saudi oil output or more than 5% of global supply, but U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the assault was the work of Iran, a Houthi ally.

Read More Show Less
Maj. Matthew Golsteyn in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Philip Stackhouse.)

Nearly a decade after he allegedly murdered an unarmed Afghan civilian during a 2010 deployment, the case of Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn is finally going to trial.

Read More Show Less