USAF REMOTELY PILOTED AIRCRAFT (RPA) PILOT BADGE

Thanks to their combination of stealth and firepower—and the fact that they don’t expose their crewmembers to the threats of anti-aircraft fire or the possibility of being captured—remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) have become the go-to technology for the United States Air Force in the Global War on Terror.

And the need for pilots of RPAs has not abated. In March, 2016, the USAF Air Combat Command announced that it had 980 RPA Pilots, over 100 shy of the optimum number of 1100 necessary to maintain combat operations at the current levels. But even the 1100 figure is not enough: The Air Force’s goal is to up the number of available RPA Pilots to 1400 in order to provide each with more time for training and downtime to lessen the chances of burnout.

Additionally, Air Combat Command wishes to boost the total number of personnel involved in RPA operations to between 4200 and 5200. How serious is the service about boosting its RPA capabilities? In August 2016, the Air Force announced it was increasing the annual retention bonus from $25,000 to $35,000 for RPA Pilots who re-up for five years—a payday of $175,000—beginning on October 1, 2016.

RPA Pilot is one of just seven types of Air Force officer categories eligible for an aeronautical rating from the USAF. Pilots in the 18X specialty code can earn the RPA Pilot aeronautical rating badge, including RPA Pilots for Special Operations (18SX), Reconnaissance (18RX), Experimental Tests (18EX), Attack (18AX), and General missions (18GX).

Unlike many occupational badges, the RPA Pilot badge is awarded at Basic, Senior, and Command levels. To garner the Senior badge, an RPA Pilot must be permanently awarded the RPA Pilot rating and have logged seven full years of rated service as an RPA Pilot with at least 2000 total RPA Pilot hours, 1300 hours of primary/instructor/evaluator pilot time, or 72 months of Operational Flying Duty. A Command RPA Pilot will have fifteen years rated RPA Pilot service and 3000 hours of total RPA Pilot hours (or 2300 of primary/instructor/evaluator time) or twelve years of Operational Flight Duty.
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