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Air Force launches pilot training program that could lead to enlisted combat pilots

F-16 Fighting Falcons from the Arizona Air National Guard's 162nd Wing fly an air-to-air training mission, April 8, 2015. (U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)
December 07, 2017

The U.S. Air Force will launch a pilot training program in Austin, Texas, that will include five enlisted airmen. This could lead to enlisted airmen being able to fly combat aircraft in the future.

The pilot training program comes amid a massive 2,000 pilot shortage in the U.S. Air Force that the branch is trying to fill.

In a Nov. 30 email from Maj. Gen. Timothy Leahy, Commander of the Second Air Force, five enlisted airmen and 15 officers will be part of a six-month training program that will begin in February 2018, the Air Force Times reported.

“Enlisted volunteers will be pioneers in innovating Air Force aviator recruitment, selection, and training processes by demonstrating the potential of non-college graduates to succeed in a rigorous pilot training environment,” Leahy wrote, according to the Air Force Times. “This program will provide data to [Air Education and Training Command commander Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast] on the potential for enlisted members to train to fly modern combat aircraft.”

Douglas Ernst (Twitter)

Those who become students will then take solo flights in T-6 trainers.

In the email, Leahy said the deadline for airmen to volunteer in the program is Dec. 15, and that his staff has already identified 250 potential candidates for the training program.

Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth Wright told the Air Force Times that it is only a matter of time before there are enlisted combat pilots.

“I don’t know that [having enlisted airmen fly manned aircraft] will happen on my watch, but I think that’s the natural progression,” he said. “We have some brilliant young minds in our Air Force that are perfectly capable of flying manned aircraft.”

Earlier this year, Wright launched a study into potentially reviving the warrant officer program as a way of recognizing their talent and extra responsibilities, as well as compensating them more for it.

Last May, three enlisted airmen became the first to graduate from undergraduate RPA training at Joint Base San Antonio, where they would later train to fly the RQ-4 Global Hawk.