Drones

THIS IS TECH. SGT. COURTNEY, FIRST USAF FEMALE ENLISTED PILOT (AND SHE “WILL FLY” DRONES)

In her 11-year career, Tech. Sgt. Courtney has been a part of the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance career field filling various roles such as imagery analyst and sensor operator for the MQ-1 Predator and the RQ-4 Global Hawk

After having completed Undergraduate Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) Training on Aug. 4, 2017, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, Tech. Sgt. Courtney (her last name is censored because the U.S. Air Force limits disclosure of identifying information to first names for all Remotely Piloted Aircraft pilots and sensor operators throughout their careers) has become the U.S. Air Force’s first female enlisted pilot.

As explained by Tech. Sgt. Ave I. Young, 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs, in the article Air Force graduates first female enlisted pilot, in its 70 years as a separate military service the Air Force has relied almost exclusively on commissioned officers to pilot its aircraft. In December 2015, the Air Force announced it would begin including enlisted Airmen in its training to pilot RPAs and twelve were selected and incorporated in the training program beginning October 2016. The first three EPIC (Enlisted Pilot Initial Classes) students graduated from training May 5, 2017.

“Tech. Sgt. Courtney doesn’t do this because she’s a girl, she just gets up every day and puts her uniform on and comes to work and kicks butt because that’s what she does,” said Maj. Natalie, an instructor pilot with the 558th Flying Training Squadron (FTRS). “That’s who she is. She’s not a woman pilot, she’s a pilot.”

An MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle.

The 558th FTRS is the sole source of undergraduate RPA training in the Air Force.

“It’s great to fill that role as the first female,” Courtney said. “It’s awesome and humbling, but our units don’t care if you’re male or female, they just want you to be a good pilot.”

In her 11-year career, she has been a part of the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance career field filling various roles such as imagery analyst and sensor operator for the MQ-1 Predator and the RQ-4 Global Hawk.

Undergraduate remotely piloted aircraft training is six months for RPA pilots, who sit in the left seat of an RPA control center during flight, and six weeks for their sensor operators, who sit in the right seat and control cameras mounted on the RPA.

This accomplishment expands Courtney’s opportunities.

“I’ve been sitting in the right seat for a long time, so now I’m ready to sit in the left seat,” Courtney said.

Tech. Sgt. Courtney poses for a photo before the 558th Flying Training Squadron’s Undergraduate Remotely Piloted Aircraft Training Course graduation Aug. 4, 2017, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.

Top photo: Tech. Sgt. Ave I. Young / U.S. Air force via Alert 5bottom photo: Tech. Sgt. Ave I. Young / U.S. Air force

MQ-1 Predator photo: U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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