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Student pilot gets first UAS assignment at Vance

by 2nd Lt. Agneta Murnan
71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

10/23/2008 - VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- (AFNS) -- As part of an Air Force initiative to meet increased demands for its airborne intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance, force protection and strike capabilities, student pilots in the Air Education and Training Command have a new potential assignment among the array of Air Force aircraft: unmanned aircraft systems.

These systems involve aircraft with various equipment and capabilities that are remotely controlled by pilots located within the U.S. or other off-site locations.

First Lt. Patrick Lebow, of Idaho Falls, Idaho, is the first Vance Air Force Base Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training graduate to receive a UAS assignment.

"I found out Oct. 9. I spent the first 24 hours just kind of processing it; I experienced the whole gamut of emotions at that point," Lieutenant Lebow said.

Lieutenant Lebow entered the Air Force through Officer Training School at Maxwell AFB, Ala., after working several years as an environmental scientist. When he arrived at Vance, UAS assignments were filled primarily from two sources: traditional "ALFA" tours and the TAMI-21 right-sizing initiative.

ALFA tours are one-time assignments where a pilot from a different weapon system is assigned to UAS for one tour, then returns to his or her primary aircraft.

The TAMI-21 initiative took a pool of fighter/bomber pilots with limited experience and put them in UAS assignments to improve pilot utilization: to move excess pilots to an area with a shortage.

As demand increased for pilots of unmanned aircraft systems in Afghanistan and Iraq, Air Force officials adopted a two-pronged approach to meet those demands.

The first approach uses a small percentage of SUPT graduates for the short term. The second approach will examine the potential for a distinct career path for Airmen to fly unmanned aircraft.

Vance students were made aware of the new potential assignments through various avenues, including the UAS roadshow which took place at Vance twice, the most recent visit two weeks prior to assignment night.

The presentation included representatives from the Air Force Personnel Center and several pilots from Creech AFB, Nev., where Airmen fly the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper aircraft to provide real-time intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance and precision attack against fixed and time-critical targets.

"UAS assignments are the new reality. Those earning their wings will spend more and more time during their careers with UAS," said Col. Mark Nowland, 71st Flying Training Wing commander. "This is the first step in a paradigm shift. Many will follow Lieutenant Lebow. The bottom line is that UAS are critical in the (war on terrorism), which is why this measure is being implemented."

After completing a standard UAS tour, pilots will receive a follow-on assignment to a manned aircraft.

Lieutenant Lebow described how his perspectives and attitudes shifted after he received his assignment.

"As I've been thinking about it, I see it as somewhat of a retooling of my dreams," he said, "not necessarily taking them away by any means. I'm looking forward to what lies ahead. I don't see this as an obstacle; I do see this as an opportunity."

As Lieutenant Lebow awaits word on his follow-on training dates, social dynamics are another aspect of being "the first."

"It's been different..." he said. "It's not what I wanted to do, but I do the job that's put in front of me to the best of my ability. The Air Force is bigger than me. The Air Force doesn't exist to serve my needs, I exist to serve the needs of the Air Force.

"I am the first of many, and I have the chance to help the Air Force do some great things," Lieutenant Lebow said.

Lieutenant Lebow is scheduled to graduate Oct. 24 along with 18 of his classmates from JSUPT Class 09-01.

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