Spending a lot of time playing Microsoft Flight Simulator or Falcon 4.0: Allied Force? Ever wonder if your gaming skills would translate into a real world job? Maybe you should think about flying drones.
On the one hand, the use of drones — and the need for pilots — is rising. On the other hand, you’ll need a lot of skills beyond flight simulation in order to qualify.
If you’re interested, the first step is to avoid saying “drone.” Those who work with them call the machines “RPAs,” or Remotely Piloted Aircraft. The acronym encompasses a sophisticated and diverse group of unmanned aircraft.
Donald Rumsfeld, our former Secretary of Defense, once made a comment about how all those crazy kids (like you), with their new-fangled gaming skills (like yours), would make great RPA pilots. Conversely, scuttlebutt in the comments section of Air Force websites is often negative, accusing the unmanned operators of being nothing more than video gamers who ply their trade thousands of miles away from where the action is.
However the commenters feel, RPA development is booming at Northrop Grumman, Boeing and General Atomics. The military is building up its unmanned piloting programs, and those who want to fly RPAs are going to be in demand for years.
The less-than-great news is that your proficiency in World of Warplanes is only part of the package the military is looking for. “Essentially, while it seems logical that gaming skills are a benefit to RPA pilots, in reality it is only a small part of the skill set required and is not a skill that is considered when recruiting for pilots,” Christa D’Andrea, Air Force Recruiting Services, Chief, Strategic Communication and Public Affairs. “RPA pilots have to be able to pilot an actual aircraft, in the cockpit, before even going to the RPA school. They go through the same initial pilot training as any other pilot would.”
Through D’Andrea, the USAF RPA school says it has no scientific data supporting the gaming connection. That being said, solid gaming skills can’t hurt. The ability to stay seated in a room, wholly focused and paying insanely close attention for very long periods of time is a large part of the RPA pilot’s job. Those are qualities high-level gamers have in spades.
When recruiting, the Air Force doesn’t look for RPA pilots specifically “We have a robust marketing campaign that uses innovation to capture the attention of today’s digital and ‘connected’ generation,” D’Andrea explains. “We’re committed to recruiting from a cross-section of the United States to maintain a diverse, highly qualified, volunteer force.” In other words, the Air Force looks for a whole lot of people with a whole lot of skills.
At this juncture pilots, Whether they’re flying in the air or from the ground, subject to very specific requirements. A bachelor’s degree with a GPA of at least a 2.5 and a good score on the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test. There are strict vision and other physical requirements as well.