Air Force Launches Program That Could Lead to Enlisted Pilots

An email from Second Air Force Maj. Gen. Timothy Leahy asserted that a new pilot training program would include enlisted airmen, potentially allowing them to fly combat aircraft. Leahy stated, “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.”

In total, 15 officers and five enlisted airmen will be selected for the pilot training program, which will take six months to complete.

Leahy said, “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.”

According to Leahy, candidates selected to become students in the program will participate in solo flights in T-6 trainers. The deadline for airmen to volunteer to participate in the program is December 15, and the application can be completed online. Those selected to continue will start training on February 15. So far, 250 potential candidates have been identified according to Leahy.

The decision to run the test program marks the first time the Air Force has seriously considered allowing enlisted airmen to pilot aircraft of any kind, aside from the unarmed RQ-4 Global Hawk, a remotely-piloted reconnaissance craft.

Marilyn Holliday, a spokeswoman for the AETC, confirmed the information contained in Leahy’s email was accurate. In an email sent to the Air Force Times, Holliday stated that the Pilot Training Next Initiative would result in a training detachment to be located in Austin, Texas, where training instructors will “leverage existing and emerging technology” to train the accepted students.

“AETC chose to focus on flying training because of the urgency involved with the enterprise,” said Holliday. “However, our focus is on how airmen learn, not necessarily what they learn, exploring technology and how that technology can produce better and faster learning.”

According to Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright, allowing enlisted airmen to pilot aircraft is a “natural progression,” noting that many enlisted airmen hold private pilot’s licenses.

“We have some brilliant young minds in our Air Force that are perfectly capable of flying manned aircraft,” said Wright.

Additionally, a decision to allow enlisted airmen to fly could help offset the shortage of pilots, particularly fighter pilots, that is thought to be associated with efforts by commercial airlines to ramp up their recruitment of military pilots.

In an effort to develop advanced training opportunities, Holliday stated that the Air Force, as part of the initiative, will partner with researchers, advanced biometrics experts, industry representatives, and academic to create a training environment that integrates technologies like augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and data analytics.