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RPA armament course graduates first class
Staff. Sgt. Ronel Rivera-Santiago (left fore), 363rd Training Squadron Aircraft Armament Instructor for the new Remotely Piloted Aircraft armament course, gives a lecture to students on how to upload the AGM-114 Hellfire missile to the MQ-9A Reaper during class at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, April 4, 2013. The RPA armament course will graduate its first students April 8. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dan Hawkins)
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Air Force graduates first RPA armament course

Posted 4/10/2013   Updated 4/11/2013 Email story   Print story


by Dan Hawkins
82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

4/10/2013 - SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Five Airmen from the 363rd Training Squadron graduated from the Air Force's first Remotely-Piloted Aircraft armament apprentice course during a graduation ceremony here April 8.

Prior to the RPA armament apprentice course coming on-line, Airmen who were headed to an RPA armament assignment received one block of RPA familiarization training in the Special Missions armament course, with the rest of their upgrade training being conducted in the field at the gaining unit.

With the ever-growing multi-role use of RPAs, it became apparent a more formalized training method was needed to ensure war-fighting success.

"As Remotely-Piloted Aircraft become more and more prevalent on today's air and space battlefield, it is critical that we have a fully-trained force to support combat operations for this cutting-edge technology," said Maj. Oliver Ulmer, 363rd TRS commander. "RPAs have transitioned from a role of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnassaince (ISR), and into a more active offensive weapon system. With this move, our force has also transitioned to provide trained Airmen to support this increasing combat support requirement."

The course, which covers four blocks of instruction over 20 academic days, includes instruction on aerospace ground equipment, MQ-1 Predator familiarization, as well as MQ-9 Reaper familiarization.

Subjects such as armament systems components, weapons release systems, suspension equipment and air munitions loading and unloading are taught throughout the course.

"The students go through armament fundamentals with everyone else first," said Staff Sgt. Ronel Rivera-Santiago, 363rd TRS aircraft armament instructor and one of two RPA instructors. "Then they come to us for four weeks of nothing but RPA training."

The Reapers, with a range of 1,150 miles (or 1,000 nautical miles) and cruise speed of approximately 200 knots, can carry a munitions combination of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, GBU-12 Paveway II and GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM), according to the Air Force MQ-9 Factsheet.

These types of payload, not to mention the Reapers' ISR capabilities, significantly increase the options for battlefield commanders and are helping to change the concept of irregular warfare in real-time.

"The RPA's multi-mission capability and long endurance allow commanders to see changes to the battlefield instantly," Santiago said.

Santiago is thrilled to be a part of teaching the RPA armament pipeline students.

"It's a great opportunity," Santiago said. "It's amazing to actually be able to teach this course and be on the cusp of getting to teach these new students coming online."
For one student, knowing he is working on cutting-edge technology that is impacting the battlefield in real-time makes it all that much more worthwhile.

"I love working with computers, my father worked with computers," said Airman Ryan Bowen, 363rd TRS RPA armament apprentice student from Shenendoah Valley, Va. "It's just very exciting to see an unmanned aircraft being able to fly with just computers and being able to be a part of that technology."

For Airman Austin Hoisington, 363rd TRS RPA armament apprentice student from Olathe, Kan., the realization that unmanned aerial vehicles help execute the mission downrange while at the same time ensuring personnel safety make his future job one to look forward to.

"What's exciting about this course is that it's the absolute future of the Air Force," Hoisington. "With remotely-piloted aircraft, no one has to get hurt flying this aircraft. If something were to go wrong, it's just the machine going down."

Graduates of the RPA armament apprentice course earn 16 credits towards their Community College of the Air Force degree.

The 363rd TRS, part of the 82nd Training Group here, trains more than 3,800 graduates in armament systems, nuclear and conventional munitions annually. 

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