Leadership Lessons: A Global Hawk Perspective

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- Being a Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) pilot is a very rewarding job.  Even though the career field has only scratched the surface in terms of operational capabilities and growth, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are aggressively becoming the way of the future in the Air Force, and presently the RQ-4 Global Hawk is playing a central role in that movement while providing crucial combat support in the "war against terror". I would like to share with you why I wanted to become an RPA pilot, and specifically, why I like being a Global Hawk pilot.

People can easily romanticize, with the help of the movie industry, the pride and thrill associated with becoming a manned aircraft pilot. But why become an unmanned pilot? It's simple. Because it's the future! I sense a change in tide where we will see a new breed of pilots dominating the Air Force and I am thrilled to be at the forefront. Just ten short years ago most people would not have had RPA pilot down as one of their job choices, though it existed, it just was not widely known or certain to be an in-demand area. Since the Air Force created an undergraduate school for remote pilot training (URT) two years ago and produces unmanned pilots as quickly as they do, you know the future is promising for this new career path.

Deciding to become an RPA pilot was a practical one for me given my situational environment at the time. Coming out of school in Colorado with a bachelor's and master's degree in the midst of the "Great Recession" had me looking at the future. I wanted a career that was challenging yet rewarding, had demand, future growth, allowed me to work with talented and driven individuals, and one that would have an impact on the world. Not the easiest requirements to fill, right? The only career path that met these personal desires was the UAV field and I specifically wanted to be a part of the team leading the way...the Air Force.

The job of a Global Hawk pilot is awesome! We get to operate one of the biggest and fastest UAVs in the world, conduct real-time surveillance and reconnaissance (with the Block 40 version of the Global Hawk), provide tactical data links and voice systems (with the Battlefield Airborne Communication Node (BACN) on the Block 20 version of the Global Hawk), and directly support combat missions.  It is amazing to see news organizations like CNN report on U.S. missions in the Middle East and know that we were in support of those missions. It is rewarding to hear the troops on the ground say how important the BACN is to them for communication. Additionally, the BACN is not just a weapon against terror; it also assists in providing humanitarian relief, such as air drops. Global Hawks have assisted in tsunami, forest fire, and hurricane relief just to name a few. These are some of the many reasons why I love being a Global Hawk pilot.

The Global Hawk is not a simple one-person enterprise; it consists of a number of support units which keep the Global Hawk performing at the highest level. The maintenance personnel are essential to the daily operation of the Global Hawk. These Airmen work long hours to make sure the Global Hawk can be a 24/7 Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance asset. Ground Communications, our Tech Department, and civilian contractors also play a key role in the operation of the Global Hawk. These are just some of the key players who directly support the daily operation, but there are many other entities that also support the mission like Family Services, Medical, Finance, Security Forces, Housing, the list goes on. This is the enterprise that makes up "Team Grand Forks" and helps keep the Global Hawk operational.

The future for the Global Hawk and RPAs in the Air Force is bright and will only get better with evolving technological advances in the UAV field. Looking at what we are accomplishing daily is extraordinary. Just in the short time that I have been here at Grand Forks AFB, the 348th Reconnaissance Squadron has expanded to two additional areas of operation, increased its RPA pilot manning, and redesigned its squadron headquarters. Although I cannot predict the future, from what I am seeing the Global Hawk and other UAV platforms are here to stay and will provide the USAF and the United States a significant advantage over our enemies.

I would like to end with a quote by U.S. Navy Adm. Arthur Radford who I believe sums up the importance of air power in a war campaign: "Today air power is the dominant factor in war. It may not win a war by itself alone, but without it no major war can be won." I know the Global Hawk and similar UAVs give the USAF and the U.S. that increased level of air power over our enemies and I am honored to be a part of it. GO HAWKS!