The U.S. Air Force is facing a shortage of pilots, but that’s not because they lack the people with the skills to fly. Since WWII, enlisted individuals were barred from serving as pilots, but that policy may soon change. In fact, several studies are underway that are looking at the benefits of allowing enlisted men to pilot U.S. Air Force aircrafts.
Artificial Intelligence and Enlisted Men May Solve the Problem
One study from Rand Corp. is considering an alternative which would create a warrant officer corps that could be used to supply the Air Force with enough pilots. The Air Force is conducting a study of its own on the possibility of using enlisted personnel to pilot their aircrafts. The Air Force study is also looking at how tech advances, including AI technology, can improve piloting skills.
Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth O. Wright says the issue is not whether or not the enlisted men and women are qualified. Many of them serve as airmen in the guard and some have their private pilot licenses, which allow them to fly for commercial airlines outside of their Air Force service. Wright adds that, while these people are qualified, the real issue is whether or not the Air Force wants to open this opportunity to them.
There Are Issues to Iron Out First
While the Air Force leadership is open to allowing enlisted personnel to serve as pilots, there are still some concerns that need to first be worked out. Wright says the career path for airmen would have to be organized in order to determine how individuals would be promoted and under what circumstances. Currently, officers who serve as pilots are floated around between squadrons, sometimes taking transfers to other postings altogether. In the case of enlisted personnel, that same system might not work.
There’s also an issue of allowing airmen to deploy weapons. As the pilot is tasked with deploying weapons, this raises concerns over giving enlisted airmen that type of clearance.
If the Air Force is going to use enlisted personnel to solve the problem of pilot shortages, it’s clear there are still some concerns that need to be resolved. While this would open up better opportunities for airmen and qualified pilots, it might also mean restructuring the system for assigning pilots to various posts. That extra effort may be necessary, before the pilot shortage in the Air Force becomes unmanageable.