RAF RPAS pilots awarded their wings
The Ministry of Defence MoD has announced that the Royal Air Force (RAF) has certified its first Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) pilots in a graduation ceremony at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, USA. This is the first group of pilots to graduate under the newly created specialised flying branch for those flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) within the RAF.
The RAF currently flies the Reaper MQ-9 UAV, which can be armed but is used primarily for real-time Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) support. Like manned aircraft the Reaper is always under the control of human crews working to the same legal rules of engagement (ROEs) but has the immense advantage over manned aircraft by being able to loiter or persist over a target area far longer.
As the role of UAVs becomes increasingly central to military operations, a sub-specialisation within RAF Flying operations has been created with two RPAS Squadrons; 39 Squadron currently based at Creech AFB, and 13 Squadron, which is based at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire. 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 UAVs that might be considered by the MoD.
Air Marshal Richard Garwood, the RAF’s Deputy Commander-in-Chief-Operations, awarded the first badges to the newly qualified RPAS pilots. He 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.’
Wing Commander Thomas Burke, the Officer Commanding 39 Squadron, said: ‘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 RAF. 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 RAF’s force mix now and in the future; today marks the establishment of a sub-specialisation that will ensure the RAF can continue to lead the way in providing this essential and burgeoning battle-winning capability.’
A dedicated badge has been created for the RPAS pilots, which differs only slightly from the design of the current RAF pilot badge by having blue laurel leaves to identify the specialisation.
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