Roger That: Air Force drone pilots can qualify for $125,000 retention bonus


Staff Sgt. Lloyd, an 18th Reconnaissance Squadron MQ-1B Predator sensor operator, flies a remotely piloted aircraft training sortie in support of Red Flag 15-3 at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., July 23, 2015. The goal of participating in Red Flag exercises was to fully integrate RPAs into large force exercises and to educate major weapon systems communities on the RPA capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay)
Staff Sgt. Lloyd, an 18th Reconnaissance Squadron MQ-1B Predator sensor operator, flies a remotely piloted aircraft training sortie in support of Red Flag 15-3 at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., July 23, 2015. The goal of participating in Red Flag exercises was to fully integrate RPAs into large force exercises and to educate major weapon systems communities on the RPA capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay)

The US Air Force is offering drone pilots big “skills retention” bonuses, in hopes they will keep flying for another five years.

Air Force officials announced Tuesday that pilots who completed their undergraduate remotely piloted aircraft, or RPA, training and have served six years, may receive five annual installments of $25,000.

The officers must be active-duty lieutenant colonels or below and cannot complete 25 years of active duty before the five-year bonus period ends. The drone pilots may also receive 50 percent of the bonus up front.

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Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said: “These airmen are making extremely important contributions to the fight; we need these professionals to stay with us and we’re committed to retaining them in our force.”

Pilots whose undergraduate flight training active-duty commitments will expire in fiscal 2017, will be allowed to sign up for retention pay bonuses this year, the NY Post reports.

In March of this year, Mother Jones reported that “drone pilots are quitting in record numbers.”

The Air Force has struggled with a shortage of drone pilots since at least 2007 — according to an LA Times report. In 2014, it trained 180 new pilots – the most recent data showed.

Retired pilots have described the job as “mentally fatiguing” requiring them sometimes to fly surveillance in one country in the morning and bomb another country later that same day.

“Looking into the eyes of the pilots out there, you can tell they’re tired and worn out,” an Air Force veteran told the LA Times.

Some Predator and Reaper drone pilots have complained about their extended six-day work weeks, which average out to about 900 hours a year. Fighter pilots, however, only fly an average of 250 hours a year.


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