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UAS students graduate from inaugural class

by Sean Bowlin
12th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

12/22/2008 - RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) -- Nine lieutenants graduated from the first combat familiarization program for pilots slated to fly unmanned aircraft systems Dec. 22 at Randolph Air Force Base.

The four-week Unmanned Aircraft Systems Fundamentals Course, or UFC, began instruction Nov. 21 taught by 563rd Flying Training Squadron members.

It's designed to give pilots a feel for the air- and ground-based battle space environment in 100 hours of combined simulator and academic classes. The UFC gave pilots a computer-based simulation using high-end gaming technology and exposing them to multiple Air Force strike aircraft on a cyber-based battlefield.

"It simulates the real-world ground-combat and air-combat environment for the UFC students," said Lt. Col. Scott Cardozo, the 563rd FTS director of operations.

Capt. Tom Moore, 563rd FTS UFC flight commander, led a team of civilian contract instructors and combat systems officer instructors from the 563rd FTS who taught, observed, tested and critiqued the student pilots through simulated computer-based airstrikes in a real-time, extremely high-fidelity, air combat picture.

UFC instructors predict that eventually 100 UFC graduates per year will learn to fly unmanned aircraft systems at Creech AFB, Nev., and eventually work with the UAS enlisted sensor operators throughout the world. The nine pilots will head to the two-week Joint Firepower Course that starts Jan. 26 at Nellis AFB, Nev. Then, it's on to the flying training unit at Creech AFB for the lieutenants. After that, qualified UAS pilots will be assigned to manned aircraft and possibly move between manned and unmanned aircraft as their Air Force careers progress.

"They have all done well," Captain Moore said, and are off to a fine start.

Colonel Cardozo also praised his young charges.

"They have strong academic averages and have taken advantage of all the training we can give them," the colonel said. "They learned how to read and understand an Air Tasking Order. They also learned weapons employment, watched computer videos and read text message conversations on live (MQ-1) Predator feeds from overseas."

Captain Moore said the students also learned how to employ sensors on attack aircraft.

"I learned in this course how we fit into the bigger picture of coordinating the airspace of a battle," said 1st Lt. Brandon Ongra, one of the nine lieutenants who graduated in the UFC class. "We've never been operational in the combat Air Force and here we've learned the capabilities of different aircraft and their weapons."

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