The Air Force doubled the number of remotely piloted aircraft operators trained in each class beginning last month, Air Education and Training Command officials announced. “The RPA community as a whole is experiencing manpower issues and there is a need to train more pilots,” 558th Flying Training Squadron Commander Lt. Col. John Stallworth said in a release. “We have worked diligently since last April to ensure we can meet the increased demand for trained ‘18X’ pilots,” he added. The class size for RPA operators grew from 12 students to 24 starting in January, with the aim of increasing output from 191 pilots per year to 290 in 2016. AETC plans to grow RPA operator production to 384 per year by 2017, when the 558th FTS schoolhouse at JBSA-Randolph, Texas, is slated to reach full operational capability. The school plans to add 42 additional instructors, half of which will be civilians, expanding the cadre to 104 trainers. AETC is also investing approximately $1.15 million in added simulators and expanded training space to accommodate the added students. (See also Revamping the RPA Structure and RPA Plan Requires Political Will.)
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.