Air Forces Offers Up to $175K in Retention Bonuses for Drone Pilots

The "Reaper" has been chosen as the name for the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle. (Courtesy photo)

By Debbie Gregory.

As the Air Force tries to retain drone pilots, the service branch is offering critical skills retention bonuses worth a total of $175,000 if the pilots agree to serve five more years, or $35,000 for an additional year of commitment if they’re already receiving a similar CSRB or aviation retention pay bonus.

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.

Previously, the Air Force had floated a plan to offer $15,000 retention bonuses for commitments of either five years — for a total of $75,000 — or nine years, for a total of $135,000. At that time, due to the shortage, drone pilots were flying up to 900 hours a year, compared with fighter pilots, who were in the cockpit an average of 250 hours a year, according to Air Force officials.

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.

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