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October 5, 2009—The Air Force leadership approved the creation of an 18X Air Force Specialty Code for officers who operate remotely piloted aircraft during the service’s intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance summit Sept. 29 in the Pentagon.

This new, yet-to-be-named career field will be considered "rated," carry a six-year active duty service commitment, and will qualify for aircrew incentive pay. Future 18X pilots will earn the wings that the Air Force began handing out last month to its first class of graduates who learned to operate MQ-1 Predator RPVs without prior manned flying experience.

The leadership wants more time to come up with a name for this career field that better articulates what the new mission area entails. The “unmanned” aircraft label appears to be losing appeal since, as Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz says, these platforms are “anything but that,” because the operators are ever vigilant at the controls, even though physically separated from the aircraft.

For enlisted airmen, the leadership decided at the summit that the previously created 1UOX sensor operator career field will be a subcategory under Career Enlisted Aviators. It also gave the nod for a new set of sensor operator wings that is similar in appearance to standard enlisted aviator wings but with a different shield.

Also, the leadership decided, at least for now, to stick with the service’s current intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance structure—built around the Air Force ISR Agency, which reports directly to the Air Staff—instead of pursuing a separate ISR major command or ISR numbered air force.

(SAF/PA report by TSgt. Amaani Lyle)