First enlisted woman to pilot drone aircraft excited for new phase of her career
By PATRICK GROVES | The Appeal-Democrat (Tribune News Service) | Published: September 6, 2017
Lost and unsure what the future held for her, Courtney entered the recruiter’s office in her hometown of Vacaville, Calif.. Unbeknownst to her, in 12 years she would become the first enlisted woman to pilot a drone aircraft.
Tech. Sgt. Courtney, whose last name can’t be released for security reasons, said becoming a pilot has been a recent goal of hers.
Before being accepted into the Global Hawk program, which is inviting enlisted personnel with at least a rank of Staff Sgt. or E-5, Courtney was trying to fulfill requirements to become a commissioned officer.
“Down the road, I want to work with the community to get youth involved in flying,” she said.
The Air Force is experiencing a shortage of pilots, as demand for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance increases.
The inaugural Enlisted Remotely Piloted Aircraft Pilot Selection Board met in February and selected 30 enlisted airmen from about 200 applicants, according to an Air Force press release. Courtney was among the nine technical sergeants selected for fiscal year 2017-18.
Major Kevin, with the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, said the program needed applicants with a solid performance record. Staff sergeants and above meet that qualification, he said.
“You want that level of maturity,” the major said. “So they’re able to handle stressful situations and will make sure the aircraft and people around them are safe.”
Before Courtney learned how to pilot the Global Hawk, she said she had to learn how to pilot a small plane.
“So you can get the feel of an aircraft,” she said. “(When flying a Global Hawk) you can’t feel the aircraft turning and you can’t hear the engine rumble. You need that training so you know what to look for on your instruments.”
Becoming the first female enlisted pilot was just a perk, she said, what has made the journey monumental is she achieved her dream.
“I was excited,” Courtney said. “I achieved a personal goal, but I’m nervous for the road ahead.”
She said the most rewarding part of the process so far is not the flying, but a moment shared between her and her sons.
Her two sons helped pin the wings onto her uniform when she graduated Aug. 4 from the Undergraduate Remotely Piloted Aircraft Training at Joint Base San Antonio in Randolph, Texas.
“That was a very proud moment for me as a mother and as an aviator,” she said.
Courtney, 31, said her uniform hasn’t really changed, except for the addition of the aviator wings. She said she wore a flight suit while she was a sensor operator for the Global Hawk.
“The newest thing is obviously my pilot wings on my uniform,” she said. “The wings have a weight of responsibility associated with them, so people who wear wings on their uniform wear them with pride.”
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