RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
A first-of-its-kind combat familiarization program for pilots slated to fly unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, will graduate nine newly-winged lieutenants from Team Randolph's 563rd Flying Training Squadron Monday.
The four-week Unmanned Aircraft Systems Fundamentals Course, or UFC, began instruction Nov. 21. It's designed to give the fledgling pilots a feel for the air- and ground-based battle space environment in 100 hours of combined simulator and academic classes.
The UFC provided the pilots with 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," explained Lt. Col. Scott Cardozo, 563rd FTS director of operations.
Capt. Tom Moore, 563rd FTS UFC flight commander, civilian contract instructors, and combat systems officer instructors from the 563rd FTS taught, observed, tested and critiqued the student pilots through simulated computer-based air strikes in a real-time, extremely high-fidelity, air combat picture.
UFC instructors predict that eventually 100 UFC graduates per year will learn to fly UASs at Creech Air Force Base, 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 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 26. Then, it's on to the flying training unit at Creech AFB.
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're off to a fine start, said Captain Moore, an award-winning flight instructor and flight commander shepherding the young lieutenants through the course.
"They have all done well," he said.
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 commented. "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 Predator feeds from overseas."
Captain Moore said the students also learned how to employ sensors on attack aircraft.
One of the nine lieutenants spoke about his experience in the inaugural course.
"I learned in this course how we fit into the bigger picture of coordinating the airspace of a battle," 1st Lt. Brandon Ongra said. "We've never been operational in the combat Air Force and here we've learned the capabilities of different aircraft and their weapons."