TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – A C-5M Super Galaxy flight engineer and a flight line expediter at Travis Air Force Base were among the 24 Airmen selected to become Enlisted Remotely Piloted Aircraft Pilots earlier this month when the 2019 ERPA selection board results were announced.
Tech. Sgt. Ron, 860th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flight line expediter, applied to become an RPA pilot three times. He said he was relieved to finally make the cut.
“I was getting used to applying and not being selected,” he said. “This year, I got off shift and I looked up the selection list from home. I saw I was the fourth name on the list. I was just like, ‘Wow, I finally got it.’”
“I was happy, but kind of relieved because I’ve put in a lot of hard work to get my private pilot license, my instrument rating and I put in a lot of hours,” he said. “I really wanted it, so I was relieved to finally see I was selected.”
In 2015, the Secretary of the Air Force announced the service would train enlisted pilots to operate the RQ-4 Global Hawk, which conducts high-altitude reconnaissance missions up to 60,000 feet. The 2019 Enlisted RPA Pilot Selection Board convened Jan. 14-18 and considered 31 active-duty enlisted candidates. To date, 66 Airmen have been selected to become RPA pilots and Ron said he’s thrilled to be one of them.
“I want to be a pilot, I love aviation,” he said. “Aircraft maintenance is a very rewarding job, but I’m ready for more responsibility.”
Ron grew up in the village of Finasisu on the small island of Saipan. In July 2009, he enlisted in the Air Force and served his first four years as a flying crew chief on the C-17 Globemaster III.
“I never realized being a pilot could even be a possibility until my time as a flying crew chief,” he said. “I observed what the pilots did and said to myself, ‘I can do that.’”
Ron has accumulated more than 2,000 hours as a flying crew chief supporting missions all over the world on five deployments. He also earned his private pilot license in May 2018.
“Flying provides a different kind of freedom,” he said. “As a pilot, you’re responsible for your safety and the safety of anyone flying with you. You’re focused on the plane and everything associated with navigating to your destination safely.”
He said he’s looking forward to increasing his knowledge as an RPA pilot.
“I’m really looking forward to learning,” he said. “In your job you get to a certain level and things kind of come easier to you. I’ve been doing this job for nearly 10 years so when something comes up, I usually have an answer pretty quickly. This opportunity will force me to learn a new job and challenge myself. That will be cool.”
Joining Ron on that journey will be Staff Sgt. Stacy, 22nd Airlift Squadron NCO in charge of supply, a C-5M Super Galaxy flight engineer and the second Airman selected from Travis to be an ERPA pilot.
“I was so excited when I found out I was selected,” said Stacy. “I printed the selection roster and immediately went to talk to my commander. I said, ‘Sir, you need to read this’ and I handed him the selection roster. My name was the last one on the list and he was just as excited as I was.”
Stacy also shared the news with his wife, co-workers, friends and family.
“Being selected is a huge honor and I’m so thankful for this opportunity,” he said. “Now, I’m ready to go.”
The application process to become an ERPA pilot is extensive. Applicants must pass a flight physical, the Basic Aviation Skills test, the Enlisted Pilot Qualification Test and be recommended by their commander.
Stacy credits his squadron commander, Lt. Col. Paul Pawluk, with giving him the motivation to apply for the program.
“When he arrived in the squadron, he said, ‘You have a choice. You can either be someone or do something. But it’s very difficult to do both,’ Stacy explained. “Maybe I won’t make chief master sergeant, but I have an opportunity here to do something, and if other Airmen are interested in applying to become RPA pilots in the future, I’ll be able to advise them on things they can do to help them along the way.”
Stacy, a native of Fresno, California, enlisted in the Air Force in August 2008 as an engine mechanic. In April 2014, he retrained into the C-5M flight engineer career field and arrived at Travis in January 2015.
He said serving as a flight engineer enabled him to gain the experience he needed to apply for the ERPA program.
“The job really is one of the hidden gems of the Air Force,” he said. “As a flight engineer, you back up the pilots, you help read approach plates and review certain flight rules. It’s a lot of responsibility.”
Enlisted RPA pilot training begins with Initial Flight Training in Colorado followed by the Remote Pilot Instrument Qualification Course at Randolph AFB, Texas, and practical training at Beale AFB, California.
Ron said he hopes, with the success of the ERPA program, the Air Force will open more flying opportunities to enlisted Airmen.
“We place a tremendous amount of trust in our enlisted Airmen every day,” he said. “This is another way for Air Force leaders to allow enlisted Airmen to reach their full potential. Many Airmen have private pilot licenses, as well as bachelors or advanced degrees. There are also many Airmen out there who are capable of so much more. I think this could be an initial step to more enlisted pilot opportunities.”
“Why not?” he asked. “If our Airmen meet the standards, then why not allow them to fly different platforms and do more?”
(Editor’s Note: Surnames were withheld to comply with Air Force guidelines on the disclosure of identifying information for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance personnel.)