How Do You Become a Drone Pilot in the Military?

Anyone who wants to become a drone pilot in the military must first apply for military service through a local recruiting office. This will include a detailed application packet, an in-depth interview and the submission of personal documents. Once this process is complete, they must visit a local military processing center (MEPS) where they will complete the ASVAB exam, a medical exam and a physical fitness exam. The ASVAB test, which is divided into different sections, is the military’s version of the college SAT or ACT. However, the ASVAB results will specify which MOS, or military position, the candidate is eligible for application. Most drone pilots work for the Air Force, so the applicant will have to complete their specific application, pre-testing and training process.

The Air Force

The Air Force operates most of the military’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs). The Air Force requires RPA operators to be an officer, which requires the service member to have a four year degree and complete some type of commissioning. This could include ROTC, Academy, or Officer Training School programs. The Air Force maintains two career paths to become an RPA pilot: the Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) and the Undergraduate RPA program. RPA pilot positions are open to service members who already have their private pilot license and are qualified to handle aircraft instruments.

The Undergraduate Pilot Training lasts one year and continues to follow-up advanced training. The length of this latter training depends on the drone’s weapon system. The Undergraduate RPA program takes about six months to complete. Graduates of this program are only qualified to operate RPAs. The Air Force currently has RPA programs like RQ-9 Reaper, RQ-170 Sentinel, RQ-1 Predator and RQ-4 Global Hawk. The basic qualification for one of these programs takes around four months and mission qualification in the assigned military unit takes about two months to complete.

Alternative Options

Some airmen start out their careers by joining the Air Force Academy in order to fly standard aircraft like F-22s. The Air Force Academy offers career tracks for civilians and enlisted airmen. Many Academy graduates go on to attend pilot training. Other future airmen join a university that has an AFROTC program detachment. This allows them to sign up for a technical degree and strive to get a high GPA, which will increase the likelihood of receiving a pilot slot or earning a chance at pilot training. The Air Force Officer Training School is another option, but they are very selective. Most of these pilot slots are reserved for current or future service members with a 3.8 plus college GPA.

One hopeful career path is through the Air National Guard. The National Guard has a more flexible and open admissions process. The National Guard has the best Reserve program, so working adults may be able to maintain their current careers and family setup while occasionally attending training and working. When it comes to becoming a drone pilot, any program is a good way to start because airframes and pilot training for operating aircraft is somewhat similar. Keep in mind that the pilot’s airframe assignment is heavily influenced by virtual flight screening performance and academic performance during advanced training.

Related Resource: What is a Mission Support Specialist in Homeland Security?

Anyone who wants to become a drone pilot in the Air Force can visit their website here and those who want to become a drone pilot in the Army can visit their respective website. The Marines have an UAV Aerial Military Operator position, but there are a limited amounts of these jobs available.