Air Force graduates first female enlisted pilot

screen shot 2017 08 08 at 11 38 32 am Air Force graduates first female enlisted pilot

Tech. Sgt. Courtney has her remotely piloted aircraft pilot wings pinned on by her sons David and Riley during the 558th Flying Training Squadron’s Undergraduate RPA Training Course graduation Aug. 4, 2017, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. (Tech. Sgt. Ave I. Young/U.S. Air Force)

By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ave Young, 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas  — The Air Force’s first female enlisted pilot completed Undergraduate Remotely Piloted Aircraft Training Aug. 4, 2017, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.

Tech. Sgt. Courtney is part of the Enlisted Pilot Initial Class.

In its 70 years as a separate military service, the Air Force has relied almost exclusively on commissioned officers to pilot its aircraft. In December 2015, the Air Force announced it would begin including enlisted Airmen in its training to pilot RPAs. Twelve were selected and incorporated into the training program beginning October 2016. The first three EPIC students graduated from training May 5, 2017.

“Tech. Sgt. Courtney doesn’t do this because she’s a girl, she just gets up every day and puts her uniform on and comes to work and kicks butt because that’s what she does,” said Maj. Natalie, an instructor pilot with the 558th Flying Training Squadron. “That’s who she is. She’s not a woman pilot, she’s a pilot.”

The 558th FTRS is the sole source of undergraduate RPA training in the Air Force.

“It’s great to fill that role as the first female,” Courtney said. “It’s awesome and humbling, but our units don’t care if you’re male or female, they just want you to be a good pilot.”

In her 11-year career, the Vacaville, California native has been a part of the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance career field filling various roles such as imagery analyst and sensor operator for the MQ-1 Predator and the RQ-4 Global Hawk.

Undergraduate remotely piloted aircraft training is six months for RPA pilots, who sit in the left seat of an RPA control center during flight, and six weeks for their sensor operators, who sit in the right seat and control cameras mounted on the RPA.

This accomplishment expands Courtney’s opportunities.

“I’ve been sitting in the right seat for a long time, so now I’m ready to sit in the left seat,” Courtney said.

(Editor’s note: Only first names of the pilots were given because the Air Force limits disclosure of identifying information to first names for all RPA pilots and sensor operators throughout their careers.)

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