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18X pilots graduate from AF’s first MQ-9 Basic Course

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Siuta B. Ika
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
Student pilots participating in the Air Force's first MQ-9 Reaper Basic Course received their wings during a ceremony at the base theater Aug. 16.

This marks the first time a student pilot in the Air Force Specialty Code 18X has completed the MQ-9 Basic Course without having been previously qualified in a manned aircraft.

The basic course mirrors traditional Undergraduate Pilot Training, but also has some differences specific to the MQ-9 platform, said Lt. Col. Nathan Hansen, 29th Attack Squadron commander.

"There's extra time built into the syllabus to allow the students to get more practice, because they have to learn techniques they've never used before," Hansen said. "A significant difference and the reason why we can teach someone how to do this that doesn't have any prior aircraft experience, is because they will never come in contact with the Earth with the aircraft. For RPAs, we have a mission control element and a launch and recovery element. The only portion we control here and train to do here is the mission control element."

Not having to focus on the launch and recovery aspect significantly cuts the amount of training time, which could account for 75 percent of training at traditional UPT, Hansen added.

The basic course at Holloman AFB, which is about six months long, accounts for almost half of the total 18X training pipeline, said Capt. Chad [last name withheld due to operational security constraints], MQ-9 student pilot.

"We are here at Holloman for about six months, but we start at Randolph Air Force Base [Texas] then go to Pueblo, Colo., for initial flight screening, and then we go back to Randolph for instrument simulator training," Chad said. "During undergrad training we get our assignment, so we'll know which aircraft platform we will be flying, and then we go off to our formal training units."

Chad, like many of his classmates, is new to the operations side of the flying world.

"I'm a former logistics and maintenance officer, so this is very exciting, and a privilege because there were many people before us that paved the way," he said. "The main thing I'm excited about is to go on to my operational unit to be fully trained, so ultimately, I can contribute to the fight."

No matter what background the student pilots come from, they will now be part of "the tip of the spear," Hansen said.

"Those wings on your chest mean that you now have a responsibility to lead your crew in accomplishing the mission in defending America's freedom," Hansen said during the graduation ceremony. "This is a pretty significant responsibility and a sacred calling. When you're at the controls of the aircraft, you're the aircraft commander, so the buck stops with you. You might have an operations supervisor or mission director that can provide you assistance but no matter what happens, you are the decision authority. You're the one who determines what goes on, whether the weapons get released, where the weapons get released, and you're making those life and death decisions."

To close the graduation ceremony, Col. Ken Ekman, 49th Wing vice commander, congratulated the newly-winged pilots.

"Believe it or not, your training has just started, because as you go to your gaining bases, you're going to put into practice those things that, right now are just in theory, that have only been events in a syllabus," Ekman said. "What you're going to find is that there's a lot of gaps between those syllabus events, and you're going to have to fill in those gaps with experience. Generations of Airmen, plus soldiers, sailors and Marines are counting on you to know what you do. As you go through all of this, remember how proud the 49th Wing is of all of you."

From here, Hansen said the basic course graduates will go to their operational units to undergo mission qualification training, which will prepare them to execute specific missions at their gaining operational units.

Hansen said he has no doubts that the pilots will be successful in their careers because of the professionalism and dedication they displayed every single day during the basic course.

"They're prepared, they're motivated, and they're showing up knowing that this is the opportunity for them to get their wings and become an Air Force pilot," he said. "They've put in the extra work to get things done and they're success has shown that hard work pays off, so I look forward to their future success, and stories about what they're able to do as they go forth."