How to become a Reaper pilot

There is a misconception out there that you can stick any kid with a few hours of PS4 or Xbox gaming under his belt in the pilot seat of a MQ-9 Reaper and there you have your pilot.

However, as a recent conversation with Lt Col Stallworth, 558th Flight Training Squadron commander at the Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, revealed things are not quite that simple.

So if you fancy yourself as a RPA pilot here is a taster of the undergraduate course. First you need to be an Officer in the US Air Force but we can assume you have done that already.

If you think you’ll never fly an actual aircraft being an RPA pilot, you are wrong. Upon arrival at Randolph you are shipped off to Pueblo, Colorado, for some basic aircraft training in a DA20. This is to give Officers on the course an introduction to basic flying concepts explained Stallworth.DA20

This stage gives you 40 hours of flying time and takes around two months.

Next on the agenda is an instrument qualification course. Admittedly this does not sound quite as exciting but is necessary to teach prospective pilots the nuances of flying in an instrumented environment.

This phase is carried out on a simulator that is based on a T6 Texan 2 Aircraft, also another manned aircraft which is used to train aircraft pilots in the USAF.

texan 2

Then finally on to the Reaper – kind of. In the third and final course of the undergraduate programme, students are taught the fundamentals of deploying an RPA with 78 hours of academic and 31 hours simulator training on a desktop system that replicates an MQ-9 Reaper.

mq9 repaer

Once qualified the students are then sent off the either Holloman or Beal Air Force Base for further training depending on which aircraft they are going to fly.

That’s just the undergraduate course. Not a single PS4 in sight.

(Keep an eye out for the next issue of Military Training and Simulation News for the full interview with  Lt Col Stallworth and more on unmanned vehicle training)

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