Congress questions low UAV pilot promotion rates

Congress wants Air Force leaders to figure out why unmanned pilots don’t get promoted as often their fighter, bomber and cargo counterparts, according to an Air Force Times report.

Lawmakers inserted into the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act a mandate to receive answers in 180 days from Air Force leader.

Air Force Times reported that the past five promotion cycles have shown that unmanned pilots have lagged behind other pilots in three of those five promotion cycles.

Air Force pilots feared that a transition to flying drones could have harmful effects on their career. Many fought against being taken out of the air and stuck on the ground.

However, the Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1 Predator have played prominent roles in the wars over the past decade. Because of the demand, unmanned pilots have logged long hours from bases in Nevada, California and North Carolina.

Those long hours mean the pilots don’t have the same amount of free time to climb up the career ladder with activities such as completing Master’s degrees or traveling to Alabama for Squadron Officer School. Without those resume boosts, the UAV pilots have suffered, a pilot to Air Force Times reporter Jeff Schogol.

47 Comments on "Congress questions low UAV pilot promotion rates"

  1. They dont get promoted they dont risk there lives like pilots do and or dont do as much as regular pilots nor train as much.

  2. This is why the USAF should Reopen the Warrant officer career field for ROV/UAV Pilots. A warrant officer is more cost effective than a commissioned officer. On the plus side, it would give more opportunities for enlisted who want to fly and be ROV/UAV pilots as well.

  3. The airforce officer class is getting more and more desperate to justify that budget.

    give the ROV/UAV program to some ROTC class, enders game style, and let the brass fight for whats left. now thats entertainment.

  4. There's no reason to have an officer pilot drones. An obscene waste of my tax dollars.

  5. Hmmm… I flew a D4d (desk, 4 drawer) during my USAF career, working 12-14 hour days as an wing CCE. One finds the time to get ahead. Yes, I laugh at the CSAF reading list, PME, advanced degrees, and the all-important "are you a member of the O' Club?" requirement that SAC demanded for a general's endorsement on an OPR.

    As for who can best fly a UAV, my fellow officers and I all think 12-15 year olds have the best hand-eye coordination. They wouldn't care about promotion. They would just want high score!

  6. In my opinion they shouldn't get promoted as often. They don't sacrifice nearly as much as manned pilots do by going on deployment and spending time away from their families. They don't train nearly as hard and they don't risk their lives in the hot seat of combat.

    I think they should get moderately educated hardcore video gamers or enlisted personnel to pilot UAVs.

  7. In the Army, an NCO directs the operations of a tank, howitzer or infanry squad. Why can't an AF NCO direct a UAV?

  8. I know! I still haven't gotten any medals for my high scores on Doom. Plus I have 10K hours of microsoft flight sim with nothing to show for it. Not one call from the CIA.

    Seriously, though, the obvious point has been made about risk and skill. Some day in the future this blog will be discussing the lack of competent manned pilots. The point where UAVs outnumber manned aircraft is on the horizon. We will want young people good on the stick, follows orders, and doesnt think too much.

  9. Pilots don't join the Air Force to fly RC airplanes, they can do that as regular pilots in their spare time. UAV controllers should be an enlisted rating, same as for the US Army and US Navy. Then the point of this article would be moot.

  10. I dunno about the rest of the pilots, but they certainly need to promote F-22 pilots more than drone pilots, how else are they going to keep them quiet about their anoxia issues?

  11. If promotions are based on risking your life in combat (which cuts out the cargo jockeys), why don't we see more generals and colonels leading infantry squads on patrols? I thought promotions were based on how well the mission got done, not some romantic vision of danger. Our pilots may do a dangerous job, but it's pretty safe compared to the ground-pounders who are actively getting ambushed, IED'd, and generally shot at as part of the daily grind.

  12. I am a Dissabled Veteran with a Commercial/Instrument Rating, I am quite Capable of Flying a UAV/ I have prior UAV Experience ,US Army 20 Years why not give the old Soldiers a go at the controls, I even fly Microsoft Flight Sim Online,why not?

  13. AF NCO's at one time ran the AF UAV programs, however they became a threat to the AF Officer Corp as they would be in a position to threaten AF fighter seats, and in hance promotions. The US Army Aviation Corps is the most cost efficient organization within the military and mostly because of the Warrant Officer Corp, cheap professionial labor instead of AF primadana as in Cpt's, Maj. LTC's, Col's and in some cases BG Generals, total abuse and waste. In comparison an Apache, Blackhawk, and other RW's, is a more complicated flying fixture than a F-15, 16, 22 and 35, and etc: due to the simplicity of fly by wire technology, not thru fly by your seat. Yes I do know I used to fly RW and AB both platforms at one time or the other. USAF wake-up and give us a break save us a dollar and bring back the WO's the real professionials.

  14. The thing about drone pilots being in high demand sounds about right. If we're keeping the same guys sitting behind the screen flying the drones all the time that's not much incentive to get them promoted and doing other stuff.

  15. Is it just me? But, I am okay with Drone pilots getting less promotions especially since I know a few of them have 0 actual flight hours in actual planes. #my2cents

  16. Another argument to fold the Air Farce back into the army.

  17. Peobably because the selection committee is tired of hearing how guys in lounge chairs that go home to their families every night have it tougher than guys flying actual combat missions

  18. In the Army promotions are first and foremost based on filling authorized slots in the force structure. For both enlisted and officers, the promotions are insular to that particular MOS. An infantry NCO may have a higher promotion rate than a signal NCO, but that's because the infantry makes up more of the Army and needs to promote more people. Once those guidelines are set, the individual NCO must have a competitive amount of time in service, time in grade, education, and demonstrated skills and attributes through their evals. Officers must also show similar abilities both in what they've done and what the Army thinks they will be able to do for them in the future. UAVs are a continuously growing capability that isn't going away. To not promote someone because they're a UAV driver is shooting yourself in the foot years from now when you wish you had some UAV-smart guys in the upper echelons of the Air Force. The Army doesn't discriminate because you've done your time on foot, in a Bradley, or in a Stryker. I've seen officers who were specialized and well-rounded all make it to the top. The Army knows it needs them all.

  19. I truly hope the Air Force isn't basing its promotions on the "sexy" jobs and who is in the cool kids club. Transport pilots are probably the most overworked officers in the Air Force and see the most danger day after day. I hear you guys about F-15 pilots being deployed and in danger of crashing into a mountain, but the UAV pilot is probably in more danger driving to work right now on the highway. Neither is in particular danger from enemy action these days and we'll probably be in a few more UAV wars before we get to that romantic dogfight the fighter pilots live for. I disagree with promoting based on risk and danger because those are temporary and based entirely on circumstance. They have nothing to do with the individual's abilities unless they find themselves in a situation where they get to demonstrate them. Simply getting shot at does not make you a good leader in any branch of service.

  20. They're not promoted as often as their "fighter, bomber, and cargo counterparts" because they aren't counterparts.

  21. Daniel Wisehart | January 6, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Reply

    Just because you can fly a UAV in the Middle East from Nevada does not mean you can take it off and land it from Nevada. That work is still done on the ground by–largely civilian–crews living and working in the Middle East.

    A pilot who works as an flight instructor gets just as much credit as when he is flying missions on the front. Advancement is not about risking your life but about military experience that trains you to be a leader. You don't learn to lead by bleeding.

    UAV pilots should be promoted as fast or faster than airplane pilots because they are more effective as pilots in achieving our military objectives and they get more active experience in less time.

  22. I guess that congress doesn't have any immediate problems that require more attention (lol)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  23. what does risk taking have to do with getting promoted? promotion has more to do with proficiency than risk taking.

  24. As one of the original "Drone" pilots who flew "UAW's in Vietnam, I was a EW…..Not a pilot. WE controlled the Drone from a mother ship DC-130……As a retired Lt. Col. I still can sit at a consel, with a cup of coffee/cigaratte and do it as well as a young 2nd Lt……and a lot cheaper. There are thousands of retires who would love to do this..

  25. As one of the original "Drone" pilots who flew "UAW's in Vietnam, I was a EW…..Not a pilot. WE controlled the Drone from a mother ship DC-130……As a retired Lt. Col. I still can sit at a consel, with a cup of coffee/cigaratte and do it as well as a young 2nd Lt……and a lot cheaper. There are thousands of retires who would love to do this..

  26. O M G. Seriously? I guess we know the IQ of Congress!

  27. So how do UAV pilot promotions compare to other non-pilot career groups? I would like to see that comparison, as a retired Air Force navigator.

  28. If an enlisted man can drive a nuclear sub, why can't he fly a remote control drone?? Does not make any sense.

  29. I am currently a drone pilot dual certified on both the MQ-1 and MQ-9. I have also flown T-38s as a UPT instructor pilot, have been an operational fighter pilot in both the A-10, and F-15E. To set the facts straight, most of the drones flown overseas in combat zones are launched by Air Force pilots and sensor operators not by contract employees. I myself spent 5 months dodging mortars at Balad AB, Iraq working every day for the 5 months I was there. True when flying missions from CONUS locations we are not subject to exposure to actual combat but spending time yo-yoing to a tanker in a low intensity conflict and dropping a GBU from altitude doesn't really expose you to too much danger. I will state that during takeoff and landing from the deployed airfield does expose the combat pilot to ground fire.

  30. As far as pace of operations, in the four years I flew the A-10, I logged approximately 1200 hrs. In one year just flying the MQ-9 I have logged 1300 hrs. The job is demanding and never ends. We fly 24/7 every day of the year supporting troops in the field. In my estimation, for what it's worth promotions should be based on job performance, period. It is time the Air Force stops promoting personnel based on other criteria, i.e., advanced degrees which in most cases does nothing to improve combat capability, volunteerism, and a bunch of other BS.
    Every job in the Air Force is important, period. If you do you job well that is what matters!

  31. Don't blame congress they just sign off on what's put in front of them by the promotion board. The list is backed for the last 55 years by Col. Steve Canyon mentality. As to risk, it is not a consideration. Look to the navigators and other rated crew members that have flown missions in high risk missions and have gone on to see the pilots get the promotions. LOOK TO WHO OWNS THE SHOP! It's been a pilot's Air Force since 1947. It's deja vu all over again. The UAV guys are now considered as non-pilots as the Nav' and other ratings have been in the past.

  32. I am not in the Air Force, and I am not familiar with the Air Forces aviation promotion system. I'm just a lowly former Marine Infantrymen. IMHO: wouldn't it be prudent for the Air Force to create a Warrant Officer program (like they had years ago) for a specialized field for UAV drivers. Now with regards to promotions between a UAV and Manned Pilots: It's obvious to me at least, in my simple way of thinking what the difference is between a UAV Pilot and a Manned Aircraft Pilot….with regards to promotion, Manned aircraft pilots should trump UAV pilots ALWAYS! manned aviators are taking the risk, they have complete out of the cockpit situational awareness and can respond immediately when they've identified threats. No doubt UAV's have there place on the battle field, it's proven It works, but there is a difference between some guy with his Ass on the line, compared to some guy sitting in a cubical out of reach of SAMs, AAA, small arms and weather…to name a few.

  33. Now with regards to proficiency & leadership…If I had a choice: I'd rather take my orders from someone who's proficiency & leadership experience was formed & molded having his ass on the line, experiencing the hardships, challenges, sweat, and bloodshed rather then someone who's experience was that they were proficient in all aspects of UAV operations to include engaging enemy combatants. There's is a very deadly reality between someone who's leadership ability was molded from their training, education & having their Ass on the line experience compared to someone who hasn't.
    I'd rather chat with a pilot providing CAS overhead rather then someone in a cubicle at some base on the continental U.S..
    There's a direct connection between the guy on the ground and the guy in the air. It makes all the difference in the world when your Ass is out there hanging and he/she is up there supporting you. I know, I've been there. Semper Fi

  34. P.S.

    Mind you folks this is my own humble opinion: Do know that regardless what I mentioned in my last two comments, I believe anyone in uniform serving his/her country who has shown the leadership proficiency, integrity and moral character to lead and manage soldiers / airmen, should be promoted regardless what they do.

    Semper Fi

  35. The original sin was committed when the USAF pilot union/mafia once again insisted that only someone with a union badge (wings) could touch the stick. The real question down the line is what are you going to do with the drone pilots after Afghanistan?They are now trained only to fly drones. You cannot fly them in the US.
    Sounds like the same story as with navigators a few years back.
    INTREPID

  36. No self respecting stove piper would want to be assigned to flying drones.

  37. OOORAH to the stove-pipe boys!

  38. Before everyone takes off on a non-stop "put-down-parade" on drones, drone pilots, etc., let me share this with you. I served in the drone reconnaissance program during the Vietnam War; I'm now a military historian. Later this year you'll see on Amazon and elsewhere an approx 500 page book on every aspect of drone recon in Southeast Asia. I will leave a sample here of what Lt. Gen John Vogt, 7th AF commander and air war boss the final three years we were in SEA, had to say about drone recon and its contribution to bombing No. Vietnam into rubble during the LINEBACKER II Christmas bombing offensive in 1972. The code name for the drones was BUFFALO HUNTER.
    THE QUOTE WILL APPEAR IN THE NEXT COMMENT BOX…

  39. When has a UAV pilot ever had to eject?!? I know… It was just a joke and I couldn't pass it up. If anybody is counting votes, transition it to a Warrant program like the Army helo pilots. Any officers in now can continue as they are or pursue command routes while the new WO's learn from the outgoing O's.

  40. Probably the most interesting aspect of this whole debate is the fact that after 40 years nothing has changed. Forty years ago AQM-34 recon drones were either flown remote control from an X-band radar in a van, or with the same system built into a DC-130. The drone pilot in the ground station was required to be a rated pilot. Conversely, the same job in the airborne launch/director platform was manned by guys with Navigator ratings. Having been an enlisted aircrew member, I am aware of the realization that anyone flying in a plane through either semi-permissive or non-permissive airspace is taking a huge risk that 95% of most Americans will never experience. My main concern is transparency, objectivity and consistency(TOC). If USAF says RPA Pilots ought to be commissioned officers, TOC must be obeyed. My concern about having different ways of treating manned vs. unmanned aircraft pilots, be it formal or informal, is you end up on a slippery slope. If we argue the point of which role has the greater threat to loss of life, how would an F-16 pilot feel if HQ decided a pilot flying an unarmed, slow MC-130 Combat Talon has greater potential for loss of life, so they ought to be promoted quicker?

  41. Flight suit inserts

  42. As a current military pilot. . . I will go against the grain and say the RPA world is a tremendous asset, and their pilots are doing THEIR job to the best of their ability. Anyone who has truly integrated with RPAs, and benefitted from their work will agree. No, they are not on the front line. Neither is finance. There are a lot of desk jockies that make the system (albeit bloated) work. But not many of them will watch over you, relay information for you, gather intel, or kill a threat for you. If they changed the name to remotely Guided aircraft, would that help? No "pilot" confusion. They serve a purpose. . . they are part of the battlefield….why the ass pain?

  43. Perhaps you are right when you say the UAV chaps dont train as hard or risk their lives remote flying the drones but should that be a detriment to their careers when the AF forces them to leave the actual cockpit? Congress is right to look into this OR the AF should not abuse its pilots this way. I like the warrant officer suggestion.

  44. aliomalley1213 | April 3, 2013 at 7:43 pm | Reply

    As a future RPA pilot (oh boy!), I would like to say that as far as I know, RPA pilots have an increased risk for PTSD and their IFS washout rate is much higher than that of the typical pilot route. However, to caveat that, more pilots will washout in UPT rather than at IFS. I understand that we aren't in actual combat, but why should that impact the promotion rate? I don't want my officer career to be decided for me before I even enter it because I am "inferior" to a real pilot. Oh, and for the record, I would LOVE to fly manned planes, but because I am too short, I am stuck flying RPAs.

  45. VietVetSteve | April 3, 2013 at 10:30 pm | Reply

    Our new ops officer (never flown a drone) visited us during a Vietnam drone mission one day. The radar van was cramped and you had to duck if over 6'. It was powered by a diesel generator outside. Our visitor displayed no enthusiasm and kept looking at his watch. He casually asked, referring to me being farthest from the door, "so, if the generator conks-out, how do you keep control of the drone?" I said, "I'll be 1st out the door to get it back on-line, and we're o.k. if it's less than 90 seconds. He wasn't impressed; you could tell he was thinking, "yeah…sure you can?!?" The pilot asked his boss if he wanted to fly awhile, and he did. Ten minutes later the radar was plunged in darkness and you could hear the generator spooling-down. Hell! The pilot knew better and flattened himself against the back wall, but the major was smack-dab in-the-way. I was out of my seat, put my boot in the middle of his back, climbed over and was out the door in 3 seconds! I fired-up the generator, raced inside, bypassed the radar's 3 min warm-up timer and we reaquired the drone with 25 sec left. Never doubt an NCO!

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