Linden Blue’s UAV Predator in High Demand
Move over Tom Cruise! There is a new class of graduates from the U.S. Air Force Weapons School (similar to the Navy’s Top Gun program), one which elevates the status of officers flying the MZ-1 Predator and the heavily armed MQ-9 Reeper.
These new graduates, along with other unmanned aircraft pilots, have control over 30 constant combat air patrols cruising skies around the world. Operating drones, or Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles (UAVs) will have their own elite forces. Its members are awarded a special insignia on their flight suits. They are known as “patch-wearers,” assigned behind desks to keep all the unmanned aircraft flying.
According to the Pentagon, these specialists will be in charge of the UAV program, covering one of the most important aircraft the U.S. has deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and in other turbulent areas around the world.
In the past, U.S. Air Force pilots flew drones for a period of time, but would return to regular flight assignments. Now, with the new emphasis on UAVs, highly trained graduates become and stay experts at flying drones. They also become instructors and train future pilots for the work.
General Atomics must be busy as there are currently 127 Predators, 31 Reepers and a total of 400 unmanned aircraft pilots in use by the U.S. Air Force. Classroom work is conducted at Nellis Air Force base (outside of Las Vegas), but the students fly drones at nearby Creech Air Force Base. In addition to observation and weapons deployment, possible future combat search and rescue operations can be studied and performed at the location.
Some in the flight operations department want to know if these new graduates will receive both flight and combat pay.
As technology moves forward, it will be interesting to see what developments take place for these skilled professionals and this growing branch of the armed forces.