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UAS beta program underway; officials seek more applicants

by Master Sgt. Russell P. Petcoff
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

12/16/2008 - WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Air Force officials selected 10 Air Force officers to begin the first-ever unmanned aircraft systems beta test program to produce operators of the MQ-1 Predator. The 10 selectees will begin training Jan. 5 at Pueblo, Colo.

"We were encouraged by the extremely strong interest in this program," said Col. Charles P. Armentrout, chief of the military force policy division for A-1, or deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services. "The Air Force Personnel Center received hundreds of calls.

"The quality of applicants was extremely high, making the selection of the final 10 a very tough job," Colonel Armentrout said.

AFPC representatives screened 40 applicants for the first training class. From that pool, Air Force officials selected the first 10 students and five alternates, according to Lt. Col. David T. DuHadway, chief of rated force policy, A-1.

According to Colonel DuHadway, the initial class contains a cross-section of officers from various career fields: developmental engineers, air battle managers, combat systems officers, security forces officers, a space/missile operator, a civil engineer and a contracting officer.

These 10 officers will be the first of two groups to go through the eight-month long training program.

To build upon the successful response for the initial class, Air Force officials are looking for officers to apply for the June class and future training classes.

"This is a great opportunity for Airman to serve their country in duty that directly contributes to the joint fight (along) with our sister services," said Col. Scott A. Forest, deputy chief for operational training division, A-3, or Air Force Operations. "Volunteers will contribute to the joint fight on day one after getting checked out and help the Air Force stand up the number of combat air patrols the combatant commanders need.

"It is also exciting from a career standpoint, as Airman that serve in UAS roles now participate in the writing of a new chapter in the story of airpower," Colonel Forest said.

Colonel Armentrout said interest in the program will affect future selections.

"The criteria for this first 10 were fairly narrow," Colonel Armentrout said. "We plan to open up the process to take advantage of the high interest in the program, particularly among our younger officers who will help posture us for long-term success."

For officers interested in applying for the beta program, eligibility requirements for the next round -- such as rank, time in service and age -- will be released in the next two to four weeks.

Accepted volunteers will undergo a UAS operator-specific medical examination at Brooks City-Base, Texas. The volunteer also must not have undergone refractive surgery within a year. In addition, volunteers must apply for a Top Secret clearance and have had no previous military pilot training or undergraduate pilot training experience.

The training will include introductory flight training at Pueblo, Colo.; a UAS fundamentals course at Randolph AFB, Texas; the Joint Air-to-Ground Operations School at Nellis AFB, Nev; and then UAS training at Creech AFB, Nev.

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