JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —
The 558th Flying Training Squadron ramped up efforts to
double the remotely-piloted aircraft pilot ranks with the start of its first
24-person class Jan. 11 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph.
The larger class sizes are part of on-going initiative
announced by the Air Force in 2015 to increase the number of career
remotely-piloted aircraft pilots across the service.
“The RPA community as a whole is
experiencing manpower issues and there is a need to train more pilots to help
ease the overall strain on the career field,” said Lt. Col. John Stallworth,
558th FTS commander. “We have worked diligently since last April to ensure we
can meet the increased demand for trained ‘18X’ pilots.”
Previously, RPA pilot training classes started with 12
students; by May, each will begin with 24 students. With 16 projected classes starting each
fiscal year, the number of pilots trained annually will jump from 192 up to
One of the big challenges for the unit, which has been the
sole source of RPA pilot training in the Air Force since January, 2011, during
the transition will be increasing overall production by 71 percent during FY
‘16, while at the same time, creating the permanent student production pipeline
to be at full operational capability for FY ‘17, said Lt. Col. Jason Thompson,
558th FTS director of operations.
The 558th FTS graduated 191 student pilots in FY ’15 and are
projected to graduate 290 in FY ’16.
“Overall production counts not just students, but also includes
the additional instructors needed to handle the increased load,” Thompson said.
“There is a considerable amount of moving pieces in regards to getting both the
students, as well as the instructors, ready to make this mission a reality.”
To help meet the increased student demands, Stallworth said
the unit has hired roughly half of the 42 new instructor billets put on the
books, which will see the squadron grow from 62 instructors to 104 over the
next few months.
“Our instructor cadre will be roughly 50 percent military
and 50 percent civilian,” Stallworth said. “The (instructors) are doing a great
job being flexible during this time of growth; they’ve done everything we have
asked and more throughout this process.”
To aid in creating the permanent
production stream of RPA pilots, the inside of the 558th FTS building is undergoing
a major renovation project.
“The renovations include
additional simulator rooms, plus additional classroom and office space,” said Maj.
Michawn (last name withheld), 558th FTS RPA flight instructor and officer in
charge of the renovations. “Through our detailed planning with the Air Force
Civil Engineer Center, the 502nd Civil Engineering Squadron and the
contractor, we have mitigated most of the potential impacts to the students or
their training time.”
The renovations, costing
approximately $1.15 million, started Jan. 18 and are expected to be complete by
early July of this year, said Michawn, while noting any delays or deviations to
the current plan have the potential to reduce RPA student production
After the renovations are
complete, students will be split into six flight rooms vice the old three, with
a typical class of 24 being broke into two halves of 12, Stallworth said. While half the class is working on academics,
the other half will be training on the simulators, minimizing down time to the
maximum extent possible and at the same time, keeping instructor workloads
Despite the renovations, the
transition to larger class sizes wouldn’t work without the dedicated work of
the 558th FTS unit schedulers.
“Our scheduling team has been
absolutely critical to making this ‘plus-up’ happen,” Stallworth said. “Between
academics and making sure everyone gets their ‘sim’ time in, we haven’t had any
major hiccups and this is primarily due to their efforts in thinking through
the problems and coming up with flexible solutions.”
Partnering with the 502nd Trainer
Development Squadron at JBSA-Randolph to meet the need for more simulators,
work is currently underway to design and build six new instrument simulators,
as well as creating hardware and software upgrades to be made to 10 existing
simulators to meet the improved training capabilities of the six new simulators,
The simulators are linked together
so students have the opportunity to practice instrument flying procedures in a
dynamic airspace environment similar to what they will encounter during
real-world flight operations.
“The T-6A-like simulators being
developed with the (502 TDS) will be state-of-the-art and we appreciate the
efforts of the entire Trainer Development team in helping make this happen,” Stallworth
Another key element in ensuring mission success is the
teamwork that has been on display between all the Joint Base San Antonio
mission partners involved in the project, with crucial support coming from the
502nd Air Base Wing’s Communications and Contracting squadrons.
“The 502nd ABW has been tremendous in supporting the needs
of our training mission,” Michawn said. “There have been a few challenges along
the way, but all the players are focused on getting the mission done.”
(Editor’s Note: In
accordance with current Air Force guidance, the last names of the RPA operators
in this story have been omitted due to operational security constraints.)