Featured NewsTrending NewsMilitaryPILOTING THE FUTURE with the U.S. Air Force


13 September 2022

From World War I fighter ace Eddie Rickenbacker piloting his "crate" of wood and cloth over the battlefields of Europe, to the aircraft that ultimately owned the skies during World War II, and into the jet age, the United States Air Force has forged ahead to innovate defensive tactics, offensive strategies, technology, and pilot safety.  

The critical importance of drones for intelligence acquisition and other warfare missions has, once again, inspired the USAF to move ever deeper into technological evolution, training, and resourcing qualified staff.

What this means for drone aficionados, anyone who ever wanted to zoom across the skies, computer nerds and software geeks, high-level maintenance techs, and all who want to contribute something significant and meaningful to their country, is that the United States Air Force may have a job for you.

Here are three of the drone-based careers available now.

Officer: Remotely Piloted Aircraft Pilot

Today, more and more missions call for remotely piloted aircraft, such as the MQ-9 Reaper and the RQ-4 Global Hawk. And as the demand for these specialized aircraft grows, so does the demand for qualified pilots to fly them. Whether it’s providing close-air support, gathering intelligence or conducting strategic air strikes, RPA pilots are an integral and growing part of our nation’s air defense. In addition, RPA Pilots are officers in the U.S. Air Force responsible for guiding others and leading by example.

Pilot Qualifications

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Knowledge of theory of flight, air navigation, meteorology, flying directives, aircraft operating procedures, and mission tactics.
  • Completion of Air Force Undergraduate Remotely Piloted Aircraft Pilot Training.
  • Completion of a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI).
  • Additional requirements specific to specialty.
  • Completion of Officer Training School (OTS), Air Force Academy (AFA), or Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC).
  • Must have begun pilot training between the ages of 18 and 40 (waiverable).

Pilot Career Tasks

  • Master or all aspects of advanced aviation.
  • Plan and prepare for missions.
  • Operate aircraft controls and equipment.
  • Perform, supervise, or direct surveillance, reconnaissance, and weapons employment operations.
  • Lead and train a crew.

Enlisted: Remotely Piloted Aircraft Sensor Operator

As our country’s preeminent air defense, a lot of what we do—from surveillance to weapons—happens in the skies. Providing our forces with the intelligence they need, Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) Sensor Operators play an integral role in helping forces know what actions to take. Utilizing state-of-the-art equipment, these highly trained experts perform surveillance and reconnaissance and provide close air support and real-time battle damage assessment, playing a vital role in ensuring our missions succeed.

 Sensor Operator Qualifications

  • High school diploma, GED with 15 college credits, or GED.
  • Flight experience is beneficial and desired, but not required.
  • Normal color vision.
  • Completion of a current Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI).
  • Completion of 7.5 weeks of Basic Military Training.
  • Must be between the ages of 17 and 39.

Sensor Operator Career Tasks

  • Perform intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance.
  • Detect, analyze, and discriminate between valid and invalid targets.
  • Assist in air navigation, fire control planning, and determining effective weapons control and delivery tactics.
  • Conduct immediate first phase Battle Damage Assessments.
  • Perform pre- and in-flight mission planning activities.
  • Test and evaluate capabilities of new equipment and propriety of new procedures.

Enlisted: Remotely Piloted Aircraft Maintenance

It’s essential that all of our Aircraft be well maintained, especially when they function with no one on board. It’s the job of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Maintenance Specialists to ensure that each RPA works at its optimal performance. These experts utilize state-of-the-art equipment to ensure the aircraft are able to maneuver perfectly through combat environments to pinpoint the targets critical to our missions.

Aircraft Maintenance Qualifications

  • High school diploma, GED with 15 college credits, or GED.
  • Knowledge of principles applying to aircraft systems.
  • Normal color vision.
  • Completion of a current National Agency Check, Local Agency Checks, and Credit.
  • Completion of 7.5 weeks of Basic Military Training.
  • Must be between the ages of 17 and 39.

Maintenance Career Tasks

  • Maintain aircraft, support equipment, forms, and records.
  • Perform pre-. thru-, and post-flight inspections.
  • Diagnose and solve maintenance problems on aircraft systems.
  • Remove and install aircraft engine components.
  • Inspect and identify aircraft corrosion for prevention and repair.
  • Supervise and assist in launching and recovering aircraft.
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