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Air Force reaches EPIC milestone

Master Sgt. Alex, one of the first Enlisted Pilot Initial Class students, operated the controls for a simulator during the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Fundamentals Course at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, April 19, 2017. Alex is assigned to Undergraduate Remotely Piloted Training Class 17-10, 558th Flying Training Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ave I. Young) The Undergraduate Remotely Piloted Training Class 17-10 patch is worn by all the students and was designed with the master sergeant insignia to represent the Enlisted Pilot Initial Class students. Master Sgt. Alex, one of the first Enlisted Pilot Initial Class students, operated the controls for a simulator during the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Fundamentals Course at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, April 19, 2017.

Master Sgt. Alex, one of the first Enlisted Pilot Initial Class students, operated the controls for a simulator during the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Fundamentals Course at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, April 19, 2017. Alex is assigned to Undergraduate Remotely Piloted Training Class 17-10, 558th Flying Training Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ave I. Young) The Undergraduate Remotely Piloted Training Class 17-10 patch is worn by all the students and was designed with the master sergeant insignia to represent the Enlisted Pilot Initial Class students. Master Sgt. Alex, one of the first Enlisted Pilot Initial Class students, operated the controls for a simulator during the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Fundamentals Course at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, April 19, 2017.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mike, Master Sgt. Alex and Master Sgt. Mike will become the first Enlisted Pilot Initial Class students to graduate from Undergraduate Remotely Piloted Aircraft Training at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, on May 5, 2017. These EPIC students are integrated with commissioned officer students assigned to URT Class 17-10, at the 558th Flying Training Squadron. Name badges were blurred due to Air Force limits on disclosure of identifying information for RPA operators. (U.S. Air Force illustration by  Tech. Sgt. Ave I. Young)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mike, Master Sgt. Alex and Master Sgt. Mike will become the first Enlisted Pilot Initial Class students to graduate from Undergraduate Remotely Piloted Aircraft Training at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, on May 5, 2017. These EPIC students are integrated with commissioned officer students assigned to URT Class 17-10, at the 558th Flying Training Squadron. Name badges were blurred due to Air Force limits on disclosure of identifying information for RPA operators. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Tech. Sgt. Ave I. Young)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- The first three noncommissioned officers in the Enlisted Pilot Initial Class will complete Undergraduate Remotely Piloted Aircraft Training here May 5. Their accomplishment is exceptional because the Air Force has relied almost exclusively on commissioned officers as its pilots in the seventy years it has been a separate military service.

The Air Force announced the EPIC initiative Dec. 17, 2015. Its first four of twelve enlisted pilot candidates were integrated with 20 newly commissioned officers Oct. 12, 2016 at Initial Flight Training near Pueblo Memorial Airport, Pueblo, Colorado.

As part of IFT, each student soloed a DA-20 Katana aircraft just like all the other students that train to be pilots and combat systems officers. When they enlisted more than ten years ago this opportunity was not available.

“If you would have asked me if I was going to be a pilot when I was an Airman 1st class, I would have told you no,” said Master Sgt. Alex, the second of the three EPIC students to solo and later complete IFT.

They continued the RPA pipeline on January 6, 2017 at Joint Base San Antonio - Randolph, Texas in the second and third phases of URT. Here students learn RPA instrument qualification and fundamentals.

“For me, the hardest part going through this course was learning instrument flying and applying those skills,” said Tech. Sgt. Mike. He was the third EPIC student to solo at IFT.

“Just like most Air Force courses, there's a lot of information to take in at once, but once that information was organized, it leveled out,” said Mike.

After URT, formal training continues with Air Combat Command at Beale Air Force Base in California during a Basic Qualification Course. While there the pilots will qualify on the RQ-4 Global Hawk, a long-duration intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance weapon system that supports missions worldwide.

The remaining EPIC pilot candidates are in URT classes that started earlier this year and graduation is scheduled later in 2017 and 2018. The Air Force Personnel Command continues to plan for the training and assignment of enlisted RPA pilots.

“There are a lot of opportunities that could become available to enlisted Airmen,” said Master Sgt. Mike. Master Sgt. Mike had extensive private pilot training before joining EPIC. He was the first to solo at IFT and he was confident that fellow enlisted Airmen can succeed in URT.

“If there is something you really want, it’s achievable. You just have to put in the effort.”

*Editor’s note: Only first names were given because the Air Force limits disclosure of identifying information to first names for all RPA pilots and sensor operators throughout their careers.