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NEWS | Dec. 26, 2012

558th FTS RPA Sensor Operator Course graduates 1,000th trainee

By 2nd Lt. Keenan Kunst 12th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

*Note: for security reasons, all personnel will be referred to by their first names*

The 558th Flying Training Squadron graduated its 1,000th student from its Basic Sensor Operator Course on Thursday, December 20. The course trains enlisted personnel to be a part of a Remotely Piloted Aircraft crew.

The 1,000th graduate is a tremendous milestone for the new training program and the growing sensor operator career field. The BSOC pipeline started in 2009 with a class of five and has continued to push through an increasing amount of trainees. "I'm really lucky to be here and excited to be a sensor operator, but I'm also excited for another 1,000 students to enter the career field," said Airman 1st Class James, the 1,000th graduate.

The Air Force's RPA program is a cutting-edge facet of military aviation and its rate of growth is a testament to the increasing importance of RPAs on the modern battlefield. Staff Sgt. Michael, a veteran sensor operator and instructor at the 558th said the milestone is an indicator of an evolution in Air Force training and reflective of the military's need to adapt to an ever-changing combat environment. "Just imagine the words that would come out of people's mouths if we were to travel back in time 20 years and say, 'We need to train at least 1,000 sensor operators for Remotely Piloted Aircraft and we have 3 years to do it.'"

Another instructor, Staff Sgt. Troy, seconds this notion "these first 1,000 airmen are the future of our Air Force."

The 558th FTS is the Air Force's only undergraduate training squadron for both sensor operators and RPA pilots, preparing all the crews for America's most in-demand military asset.

Maj. Gen. Timothy Zadalis, Director of Intelligence, Operations and Nuclear Integration for Air Education Training Command spoke at the graduation and emphasized to the new operators that what they do is vital to the success of modern military operations. "Don't ever underestimate the importance of what you do," he said, "what you don't see, no one sees and what you do see, everyone sees."

As the RPA programs continue to gain prominence, the Air Force will almost certainly continue to focus on these related career fields and what they bring to the fight. "The future is limitless. I do not see RPAs going away any time soon," said Michael, "Whatever you, me or anyone could think of doing with RPAs, I would bet it is being designed, built and tested as we speak. I could not have asked for a better career field to be a part of and the pure thought of what may come down the pipe in the future for me to operate will keep me filled with interest for years to come."