By Ann Patton
Academy Spirit staff
The Air Force Academy is forging ahead with the integration of Unmanned Aerial Systems into its curriculum.
It is the only service Academy to date to do so.
“The Air Force has made Unmanned Aerial Systems a priority for our service, and the value of these capabilities is evidenced on a daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Academy Superinten-dent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould. “So it is only fitting that our cadets have a keen understanding of this vital piece of our national security.”
He added the Academy’s UAS program is designed to educate cadets and interest them to serve as UAS leaders after graduation.
Training on the two Viking 300 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles is being held at Fort Carson’s Camp Red Devil and is included in the Academy’s Unmanned Aerial System and Intelligences Surveillance and Reconnaissance Education Program.
Training has been contracted through Bosh Global Services and its subcontractor L3 Communications.
Four cadets were hand-picked to serve as the first cadre in the program which opened July 12. The four cadets first spent time at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., home to the MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle which flies daily in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The four cadre, all two-degree cadets, welcomed 21 three-degrees to the Fort Carson site Wednesday to begin training. More than 80 cadets originally volunteered for the program.
Training is held under the academic course Airmanship 200 and 201. In the fall cadets will have 10 ground training lessons and 10 flights. In the spring they will begin 30 hours of air power theory and will begin flying again in April.
Academy UAS director Lt. Col. Dean Bushey said the program serves two purposes.
“The training is primarily motivational,” he said. “If they get motivated I’ve done my job.”
The program will also introduce key skills cadets will use in their Air Force careers.
He anticipates the program will grow substantially to include about 300 cadets and stressed the future leaders of the Air Force will at some point encounter brushes with UAVs regardless of career choices. Talks are underway for the creation of an additional Air Force Specialty Code for the technology.
The Viking 300 aircraft each weighs between 200 and 300 pounds and reaches a top speed of 100 knots with a cruising speed of 55 knots.
Cadets are also receiving the full scope of managing information gathered by the Vikings, by monitoring such sources such as cell phones, computers, chat rooms, radios and cameras. They also are training in exercises involving identifying, planning and carrying out missions.
“It’s amazing what we can do in combat,” Colonel Bushey said.
He pointed out military application is but one use for UAVs, which have evolved from flying drones to armed combat. The broader uses include crop dusting, crowd control and observation of floods and fires.
The Israelis were first to employ the UAV in the 1970s. The Air Force integrated it in the mid- to late 1990s, and it was used in Bosnia.
Michael Gendron, a retired Air Force member now on the Bosh staff, praised the Academy for its initiative.
“The Academy is the first service academy to institute unmanned systems,” he said. “It’s nice to see the Air Force moving forward with this.”
Cadets are enthusiastic about the newest addition to the Academy curriculum.
“This is an outstanding opportunity,” said Cadet 2nd Class Jeffrey Nakayama. “It’s good to be a pioneer and a great leadership opportunity.”
Cadet 2nd Class Rupert Domingo also appreciates being in the forefront of the relatively new technology.
“This is the future of the military,” he said. “It’s good to have our eyes in the skies and know what’s going on.”