By Debbie Gregory.
Currently, the US Air Force has about 1,066 pilots who fly armed drones from Creech Air Force Base, NV and other bases. The Air Force says it needs about 1,281 pilots to fulfill the 65 daily missions mandated by the Pentagon. In an attempt to close that pilot shortage, the Air Force is offering retention bonuses to drone pilots with at least six years of experience.
The re-up bonus will amount to approximately $15,000 yearly for an additional five or nine year commitment. Half of this total bonus amount, $75,000 to $135,000, would be awarded at the onset of the extended contract.
The Air Force is also placing new pilots into the Remotely-Piloted Aircraft squadrons to help alleviate the growing pressure of current RPA overworked crews.
“The most critical challenge we face in this mission area is a shortage of RPA pilots,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said recently. Using graduates fresh out of pilot training was “the fastest way to address that shortfall without sacrificing mission capability in other platforms.”
Plans to assign 80 recently graduated pilots from traditional pilot school to the RPA duty will hopefully increase drone pilot graduates from about 190 to 300 annually. After serving one tour, pilots would then have the option to fly manned aircraft.
With the shortage, drone pilots fly up to 900 hours a year, compared with fighter pilots, who are in the cockpit an average of 250 hours a year, according to Air Force officials.
The Air Force said in a news release that the bonus is similar in value and commitment to what has been offered to aviators in the past who have similar training and experience.
“In a complex global environment, [remotely-piloted aircraft] pilots will always be in demand,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. “We now face a situation where if we don’t direct additional resources appropriately, it creates unacceptable risk.”
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Hefty Bonuses Await Experienced Drone Pilots Who Re-up: Military Connection: by Debbie Gregory