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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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Hefty Bonuses Await Experienced Drone Pilots Who Re-up

drone pilots

By Debbie Gregory.

As the Air Force tries to retain drone pilots, the service branch is offering critical skills retention bonuses of $125,000 if the pilots agree to serve five more years.

The Air Force said that 18X RPA pilots who have accumulated six years of aviation service, following their undergraduate RPA pilot training, are eligible for the bonuses.

The bonuses will be paid out in five annual installments of $25,000. Pilots also have the option of receiving 50 percent of the bonus up front.

To be eligible, officers also must be active duty lieutenant colonels or below, and must be receiving RPA aviation incentive pay, and they cannot complete 25 years of active duty service before the five-year bonus period ends.

“It is important to ensure RPA pilots receive a bonus that is equitable to other pilots,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said. “Therefore, we worked closely with OSD to implement the CSRB for them and with a commensurate amount this year. These airmen are making extremely important contributions to the fight; we need these professionals to stay with us and we’re committed to retaining them in our force.”

In July, we reported that 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 also said it will allow pilots, whose undergraduate flying training active-duty service commitments are due to expire in fiscal 2017, to sign up for an aviator retention pay bonus this year. In the release, Brig. Gen. Brian Kelly, director of military force management policy, said that those pilots would receive their first payment as soon as their contracts are ratified. The remaining payments would be spread out equally through the rest of the contract term.

Airmen applying for the bonuses will likely get their first payments within three weeks of their application’s final approval, and processing by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

 

Hefty Bonuses Await Experienced Drone Pilots Who Re-up: Military Connection

Military Connection: drone pilots

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.”

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their families. We are the go-to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go-to site.

Hefty Bonuses Await Experienced Drone Pilots Who Re-up: Military Connection: by Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Air Force Looks to Bolster Drone Pilot Pool

Drone Pilots

The United States Air Force has been finding it difficult to secure candidates for their unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) pilot program. Now, Air Force leadership is taking aggressive steps to fill the much needed drone pilot positions from their pool of National Guard and Reservist pilots.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James is laying out plans to increase incentive pay in order to bring more National Guard and Reserve pilots onto active duty, and find volunteers to fill needed slots to fly drones. James has told the media that the Air Force may seek large retention bonuses for drone pilots, close to the maximum $25,000 stipend that manned aircraft pilots receive.

The Air Force has struggled with manning drone operators. The demands of ongoing operations around the world, including persistent airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, have only made the problem worse. And according to General Mark Welsh, Air Force Chief of Staff,  plans to reduce the number of combat air patrols by drones have instead  increased, mostly due to the airstrike missions in Iraq and Syria.

There are currently 988 active-duty pilots for the Predator and Reaper drones – the two most lethal unmanned aircraft commonly used for surveillance and strikes. More than 1,200 pilots are needed.

Gen. Welsh says that the Air Force can only train approximately 180 drone pilots a year.  But the annual need for drone pilots is closer to 300. And the Air Force loses about 240 drone pilots a year, as drone operators move to other jobs, or leave the military for higher paying jobs operating drones for the drone manufacturers that sell them to the military.

In an attempt to combat the issue, James said that she will more than double the monthly incentive pay for some drone operators, from $600 to $1,500, in order to persuade them to stay in the Air Force. The incentive would be targeted towards those who have finished their initial six-year service commitment. All drone pilots now get the $600 monthly stipend, but current policies do not allow for any retention bonuses, unlike the up to $25,000 given to manned aircraft pilots to encourage them to stay in the service.

Ms. James also said that she will shift funds in order to bring some National Guard and Reserve drone pilots onto active duty, and will ask other trained drone operators to volunteer to deploy for six months to some of the more strained units. It is expected that 33 current drone pilots will be asked to voluntarily stay in their jobs, rather than going back to their original aircraft, as planned, later this summer.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the ArmyNavyAir ForceMarinesCoast Guard,Guard and ReserveVeterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Boardinformation on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Air Force Looks to Bolster Drone Pilot Pool: By Debbie Gregory