The January 33-hour-long B-2 mission, which culminated in 85 bombs dropped on an ISIS training camp in Libya was the first time a Spirit mission was entirely dynamic—meaning the jets took off without an exact target. The mission, which included multiple refuelings for two B-2s from Whiteman AFB, Mo., was planned and executed in 96 hours. However, the bombers took off without “fidelity” on their exact target location, said Maj. Christopher Conant, a B-2 pilot with the 394th Combat Training Squadron who flew the mission. That aspect of the mission—taking off without a set target determined yet—is possibly a sign of things to come as the B-2 could be used for more global, conventional strike missions, Conant said. The mission went off successfully, with 85 500-pound bombs dropped on an ISIS training camp in the desert. The mission, which also included MQ-9 Reaper support, resulted in almost 80 fighters killed. It was the first B-2 combat mission since 2011, and took place during “insatiable” demand for bombers, said Brig. Gen. John Nichols, commander of the 509th Bomb Wing, at
ASC17. At the time, B-2s were deployed as part of the continuous bomber presence at Andersen AFB, Guam; B-52s were deployed to US Central Command; and bombers are supporting US Southern Command’s deterrence of the illicit drug trade. That demand has not abated, and bombers are continuously on standby. Since the January mission, bomber crews have worked to refine their tactics for long-range conventional strike missions based on lessons learned, Nichols said. —Brian Everstine
Air Mobility Command is working with Air Force leadership to let pilots decide to fly their entire career in the service, instead of eventually having to move on to staff and leadership positions, as a way to keep more airmen in cockpits. The service is facing a massive pilot shortage, which is only expected to continue to grow, and has so far approved new bonuses and more flying hours to stop the loss of pilots. AMC Commander Gen. Carlton Everhart said Tuesday his command now is pushing to let pilots decide their career progression, and keep them flying until they retire, instead of moving to desk positions.
Read the full report by Brian Everstine.
Air Combat Command is changing the makeup of its staff and leadership positions to reflect a growing requirement for remotely piloted aircraft, and is aiming to provide long-term career prospects for enlisted airmen as they shift to RPA cockpits. ACC head Gen. Mike Holmes, speaking at
ASC17, said his command is moving staff assignments away from just the 11F fighter pilot and 12F combat systems officer career fields, to include 18X RPA pilot career fields. “We want your combat experience,” Holmes said. The shift opens up to RPA pilots the ability to develop into larger leadership roles in the Air Force. USAF recently graduated its first class of enlisted pilots, who have moved on to do “fantastic” in mission qualification training at their operational units, said Col. Larry Broadwell, commander of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB, Calif. When given adequate training, the enlisted pilots will perform at “very high levels.” These airmen should then get a chance to progress into leadership as well, Holmes said, so ACC is working with senior enlisted leadership to lay out career development tracks so the airmen can become superintendents and flight chiefs. “As we build this enlisted pilot career force, we need to build the right path for success,” Holmes said. —Brian Everstine
The Air Force’s MQ-1 Predator fleet has about seven months left in flight as the service moves toward strictly flying the MQ-9 Reaper, and is pushing to have the same cockpit and software across all of its remotely piloted aircraft operating locations. MQ-1s will be fully retired by the Air Force in March, but the way forward for the aircraft has not yet been determined, said Col. Julian Cheater, commander of the 432d Wing at Creech AFB, Nev., and the 432d Air Expeditionary Wing. While there is a push to have the Predators “on sticks,” or public displays, remaining Predators could be bought by the Navy or allied countries, Cheater said at
ASC17. Meanwhile, the Air Force is looking to recycle much of the sensitive equipment from the aircraft that can be used on Reapers, he said. USAF has multiple software suites and cockpits for Reapers, which are all expected to be molded into one variant by next summer. Beyond that, the Air Force is looking at possibly automating takeoff and landing for Reapers in about two years. That capability is operational on the Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle, but there’s still work to be done to make sure the Reapers can take off and land in sandstorms and other difficult situations, Cheater said. —Brian Everstine
The Air Force Academy expects its number of graduates entering the space operations career field will nearly double this year. In 2017, the Academy had 14 graduates assigned to space operations, according to spokesman Lt. Col. Allen Herritage. It expects to graduate 25 space operators in 2018, and 24 more in 2019. Cyber operations are also growing, with 27 graduates assigned to the career field in 2017, expected to almost double to 49 in 2018 and slightly increase to 51 in 2019. The Academy is also producing more graduates slated for RPA pilot training. Seventy-four graduates entered RPA training in 2017 and 89 are expected to receive that assignment in each of the next four years. The Academy also expects to produce more pilots in general in the coming years, superintendent Maj. Gen. Jay Silveria told Air Force Magazine Monday at
ASC17, “because that’s what the Air Force needs right now.” —Wilson Brissett
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