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RPA partnership with Civil Air Patrol looks to bridge barriers of unmanned flying

  • Published
  • By 1st. Lt. Brandon Shapiro
  • 319th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

Thousands of miles away and with no visual of their aircraft, RQ-4 Global Hawk pilots are linked to their jet, straddling adversary borders at an average altitude of more than 10 miles.

Now, throw in the fact that the jet has the wingspan of a Boeing 737, winds frequent more than 140 miles per hour, and pilots are communicating with air traffic controllers in foreign countries, and the challenges become ever-apparent.

Recognizing the need to address the challenges unmanned pilots face was Lt. Col. Michael Dunn, 348th Reconnaissance Squadron director of operations.

“In unmanned aviation, sitting in a 1 g (gravity) environment, hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles away from your aircraft, you can lose the sensation as a pilot,” said Dunn. “Understanding the mental and physical challenges inherent to remote piloting and finding ways to bridge those gaps is integral as pilots.”

Thankfully, through special Air Combat Command funding and local connections, Dunn was able to form a partnership between pilots from the 348th Reconnaissance Squadron and the North Dakota wing of the Civil Air Patrol.

The collaboration has unmanned aviators flying with Civil Air Patrol pilots to reintroduce basic fundamentals, which are often lost while flying in such a unique fashion; it also gives visuals of ground and terminal area procedures that are typically relayed to the unmanned pilots from aircraft observers and tower controllers.

“Being RPA (remotely piloted aircraft) pilots, some of the traditional aviation skills can atrophy,” said Dunn. “Being able to partner with the Civil Air Patrol to further develop airmanship, aeronautical decision making, and critical thinking in the aircraft is a tremendous opportunity.”

This is the first time that this type of collaboration has ever been done with the Civil Air Patrol total force. Given the evolution and the future of the RPA community, Dunn sees the collaboration as just the beginning of many very important partnerships to come.

“The future of programs like this one look very bright because of how innovated and opportunistic they are,” said Dunn. “It’s going to become increasingly important for us to have such opportunities that improve and further hone our pilots’ aviation skills.”

Since inception in September, eight unmanned pilots from Grand Forks have flown with the North Dakota wing of the Civil Air Patrol.