> our title:

First RAF Drone Pilots Get Their Wings

> original title:

First RAF Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAS) Pilots Awarded Their Wings

(Source: Royal Air Force; issued April 1, 2013)

In the first graduation ceremony of its kind four RAF pilots have been awarded their specialised RPAS pilots badge at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, USA. The graduation follows the announcement in December by the RAF of the creation of a specialised flying branch for those flying Remotely Piloted Aircraft. The announcement is recognition within the RAF of the growing complexity and capability of Remotely Piloted Air Systems and their increasingly pivotal role on operations.

As a sub-specialisation within the RAF Flying branch those who qualify are known as RPAS pilots. To identify qualified RPAS pilots a dedicated RPAS pilot badge has been created, which differs only slightly from the design of the current RAF pilot badge by having blue laurel leaves to identify the specialisation.

The RAF’s Deputy Commander-in-Chief-Operations, Air Marshal Richard Garwood awarded the first badges to the newly qualified RPAS pilots. Air Marshal Garwood said: “This first graduation of RPAS pilots makes clear not only the RAF’s commitment to this pivotal technology but the associated need to produce highly qualified pilots devoted to fully exploiting RPAS capabilities now and in the future.”

The RAF has two RPAS Squadrons; 39 Squadron currently based at Creech AFB, and 13 Squadron, which is based at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire. The RAF currently flies the Reaper MQ-9 Remotely piloted aircraft, which can be armed but are used primarily for real-time Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) support and are an integral part of the RAF’s airpower capability, complementing its manned aircraft. Like manned aircraft the Reapers are always under the control of human crews working to the same legal rules of engagement (ROEs) but have the immense advantage over manned aircraft by being able to loiter or persist over a target area far longer.

The establishment of the RPAS pilot flying branch has been designed to aid the recruitment and training of qualified pilots to support current Reaper based operations but also gives the RAF the flexibility to convert and operate other future potential Remotely Piloted Air Systems that might be considered by the Ministry of Defence.

Attending the graduation of RPAS pilots with the Deputy Commander-in-Chief Operations was Wing Commander Thomas Burke the Officer Commanding 39 Squadron; he was unequivocal of the importance of the RPAS pilot flying branch:

“Today’s graduating Reaper pilots should be justifiably proud of their achievements having paved the way for the development of a new and exciting sub-specialisation within the Royal Air Force. To earn their wings they’ve had achieve the highest standards of airmanship and operational prowess and I am delighted that they will soon join the RAF’s Reaper Squadrons operating the aircraft in support of UK and NATO forces in Afghanistan. RPAS are an essential part of the Royal Air Force’s force mix now and in the future; today marks the establishment of a sub-specialisation that will ensure the Royal Air Force can continue to lead the way in providing this essential and burgeoning battle-winning capability.”