First-Name Basis Only: The U.S. Chair Force

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Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shawn Nickel

"Right, 2nd Lt. Jacob [LAST NAME DELETED BY BATTLELAND] and, left, Scott [LAST NAME DELETED BY BATTLELAND] pose in front of an RQ-4 Global Hawk at the Beale AFB, Calif., flight line" -- Air Force caption

The Air Force has its first two Global Hawk drone pilots groomed from the ground up to fly drones, without ever having flown “real” airplanes first. It’s a new career field for the Air Force, and these guys are the first RQ-4 “pilots” in the 18X field – signifying drone operators without prior flying experience.

It’s an important step for the service: it shows that it is embracing the move to unmanned aircraft. Many military types had expressed concern that the Air Force would have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the ground-based cubicle cockpits occupied by grounded drone pilots. But as the number of remotely-piloted aircraft – and the operators needed to fly them – begin to eclipse their manned counterparts, that concern no longer appears justified.

The pair of pilots – “2nd Lieutenants Jacob and Scott” – will soon start flying operational spy drone missions. The Air Force declined to release their full names, out of operational security concerns. “With these pilots not coming from traditional training and not being experienced aviators, this is untested territory,” Colonel Steve (same security fears) said. “But the stringent requirements the Air Force has in place will ensure success.”

The operational security concerns – the Air Force issued a press release, photographs and a video of both freshly-minted 18Xers, as well as Colonel Steve, to note the historic event – does seem a tad twee, as a Spitfire driver might have said. Noted the release: “(Editor’s note: The full names of the Airmen in the story were left out based on operational security concerns.)” It reminds Battleland of Miss Nancy on Romper Room (especially when the pilots’ full names appear in a caption publicizing the event…but only after the high-resolution version is downloaded.)

A pair of F-15E pilots who crashed in Libya last year recently appeared on CNN, brandishing their full names. A self-described Air Force master sergeant questions the first-names only for drone pilots in a post on an Air Force website: 

I find it a bit overzealous to omit the last names of the people involved for the sake of OPSEC. In fact it looks downright silly. There is nothing classified or sensitive about their positions. Maybe the entire AF should remove last names from name tags and lets all go on a first name basis.

MSgt Don, Can’t tell ya

What do you think, General Nordy?