Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. (September 17, 2023): In this photo by Airman 1st Class Victoria Nuzzi, an MQ-9 Reaper, piloted by the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron (TES), fires an Air-to-Ground Hellfire missile over the Nevada Test and Training Range. The 556th TES performs all software and physical testing to improve the combat capabilities of Reaper, the Air Force’s prime hunter-killer unmanned aerial system (UAS).
The 556th TES was the Air Force's first operational test squadron for unmanned aircraft. Today it provides around the clock support to UAS operations worldwide, including meeting warfighters' urgent requests. The MQ-9 is the first hunter-killer UAS designed for long-endurance, medium-altitude surveillance and for direct strikes on targets using a variety of munitions. The Reaper can loiter for up to 30 hours above a target as its remote pilots collect intelligence or launch air-to-ground missiles, like the 114 Hellfire pictured above. The aircraft is flown by aircrew in ground control stations thousands of miles away.
These new remotely piloted aircraft skippers are an integral and growing part of our nation’s air defense. As America’s reliance on UAS tools like the Reaper increases, so does the need for qualified pilots to fly them.
You do not need prior manned aircraft experience to join the Air Force as an officer pilot candidate. Students undergo a year of intense schooling to fly these multi-million-dollar weapons. The training is segmented into three phases, initial flight training, instrument qualification, and air aircraft fundamentals. Following these phases, students spend between four and six additional months flying missions with experienced UAS pilots. Candidates must have a bachelor’s degree, complete officer training at the Air Force Academy, and be willing to commit to six years of military service upon graduation.
The Air Force's remote pilot training pipeline begins in Pueblo, Colorado, with the 306th Flying Training Group followed by second-stage remote pilot training at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, and individual training at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.