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Busted, top 10 RPA myths debunked

by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay
432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing

Drones. The once harmless term has taken on new meaning in recent years largely due to misinformation, Hollywood dramatizations and their growing uses in non-military settings. For the men and women of the remotely piloted aircraft enterprise who provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to combatant commanders around the world 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, dispelling myths associated with their mission is now a top priority.

1. Myth: Drones and RPAs are the same.

Fact: In today’s mainstream media drones often refers to both small aerial capable vehicles with photo or video capabilities and, incorrectly, to U.S. Air Force RPAs. In the U.S. Air Force inventory a remotely piloted aircraft requires aircrews to operate but don’t have the capability to carry crews on board. Also in the USAF inventory, RPAs such as the Global Hawk are used to provide ISR data by recording imagery and are often incorrectly labeled as “drones.” (U.S. Air Force illustration by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay)
Fact: In today’s mainstream media drones often refers to both small aerial capable vehicles with photo or video capabilities and, incorrectly, to U.S. Air Force RPAs. In the U.S. Air Force inventory a remotely piloted aircraft requires aircrews to operate but don’t have the capability to carry crews on board. Also in the USAF inventory, RPAs such as the Global Hawk are used to provide ISR data by recording imagery and are often incorrectly labeled as “drones.” (U.S. Air Force illustration by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay)

2. Myth: RPAs fly themselves.

 Fact: RPAs are flown by a pilot, with the assistance of a sensor operator for the entire duration of the flight. Additionally, for every RPA combat air patrol there are nearly 200 people supporting the mission in various capacities. This includes pilot, sensor operator, mission intelligence personnel; aircraft and communications maintainers; launch and recovery element personnel; and intelligence personnel conducting production, exploitation, and dissemination operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff. Sgt. Adawn Kelsey)
Fact: RPAs are flown by a pilot, with the assistance of a sensor operator for the entire duration of the flight. Additionally, for every RPA combat air patrol there are nearly 200 people supporting the mission in various capacities. This includes pilot, sensor operator, mission intelligence personnel; aircraft and communications maintainers; launch and recovery element personnel; and intelligence personnel conducting production, exploitation, and dissemination operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff. Sgt. Adawn Kelsey)

3. Myth: Military RPAs are used to spy on U.S. civilians.

Fact: The Air Force only flies RPAs in the United States for training purposes. The only exception is with the appropriate level of coordination and approval RPAs can be used to support the aerial imagery needs of civil authorities in rare and urgent cases where local, state, or federal officials cannot use nonmilitary means of support. This level approval usually resides with the Secretary of Defense. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Senior Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo)
Fact: The Air Force only flies RPAs in the United States for training purposes. The only exception is with the appropriate level of coordination and approval RPAs can be used to support the aerial imagery needs of civil authorities in rare and urgent cases where local, state, or federal officials cannot use nonmilitary means of support. This level approval usually resides with the Secretary of Defense. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Senior Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo)

Additionally, the following guidelines structure how training flights work:
– Training is normally conducted in airspace over and near federal installations and unpopulated training ranges that have been set aside for that purpose.
– Information gathered during training missions that is relayed to ground stations is seldom retained after training operations.
– Any information retained after training missions is deleted shortly afterwards in accordance with regulations (typically no more than 90 days).
– During training missions, pilots and sensor operators are not applying or receiving the analytical support necessary to allow them to use imagery to identify individuals beyond gender and approximate age.

4. Myth: RPAs strike randomly.

 Fact: The vast majority of the time, the Air Force’s RPA fleet is used for ISR, not for strike activity. They are governed by the same procedures as other aircraft capable of employing weapons. RPAs are not ‘unmanned,’ and do not act autonomously to drop a weapon or choose a target. Human beings are an integral part of the system and will continue to be the decision makers. RPA pilots are not bound by a set timeline to strike a target; they spend days, weeks, and sometimes months observing the patterns-of-life of a subject and provide that information to the network of tactical personnel, intelligence members, databases and decision makers before any action is pursued. They are connected to a huge network of intelligence from multiple sources – including platforms, sensors, people and databases – to national decision makers, combatant commanders, and tactical level personnel. (Courtesy photo)
Fact: The vast majority of the time, the Air Force’s RPA fleet is used for ISR, not for strike activity. They are governed by the same procedures as other aircraft capable of employing weapons. RPAs are not ‘unmanned,’ and do not act autonomously to drop a weapon or choose a target. Human beings are an integral part of the system and will continue to be the decision makers. RPA pilots are not bound by a set timeline to strike a target; they spend days, weeks, and sometimes months observing the patterns-of-life of a subject and provide that information to the network of tactical personnel, intelligence members, databases and decision makers before any action is pursued. They are connected to a huge network of intelligence from multiple sources – including platforms, sensors, people and databases – to national decision makers, combatant commanders, and tactical level personnel. (Courtesy photo)

5. Myth: RPAs are made from alien technology and are flown from area 51.

Fact: The U.S. Air Force actually has a long history of unmanned flight and we are still learning new and better ways to fly.  We will continue to improve our methods of training, conducting operations and employing new weapon systems. The development and integration of unmanned aircraft represent a continuation of this trend and has been around since the early 1900s. The primary installations where RPAs are based and flown are Beale AFB, CA; Holloman AFB, NM; Creech AFB, NV; and Grand Forks AFB, ND.  There are additional Air Force, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard installations that are part of the distributed ground stations that support RPA flights and data analysis.(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay)
Fact: The U.S. Air Force actually has a long history of unmanned flight and we are still learning new and better ways to fly. We will continue to improve our methods of training, conducting operations and employing new weapon systems. The development and integration of unmanned aircraft represent a continuation of this trend and has been around since the early 1900s. The primary installations where RPAs are based and flown are Beale AFB, CA; Holloman AFB, NM; Creech AFB, NV; and Grand Forks AFB, ND. There are additional Air Force, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard installations that are part of the distributed ground stations that support RPA flights and data analysis.(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay)

6. Myth: RPAs are unmanned and require less manpower to operate.

Fact: In order to support ISR missions around the world, every RPA CAP requires the dedication of nearly 200 Airmen in various capacities to maintain 24/7, 365 day vigilance. The pilot, with the help of the sensor operator, flies the RPA for the entire duration of the mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay)
Fact: In order to support ISR missions around the world, every RPA CAP requires the dedication of nearly 200 Airmen in various capacities to maintain 24/7, 365 day vigilance. The pilot, with the help of the sensor operator, flies the RPA for the entire duration of the mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay)

7. Myth: RPA pilots are just “gamers.”

 Fact: Our Airmen are trained to be the best pilots in the world, regardless of aircraft. Our fully qualified aircrews consistently exceed expectations for both flight safety and operational effectiveness. Like pilots in manned aircraft RPA pilots are required to meet the same qualifications. New RPA pilots undergo a very intense training program before they fly operational missions. This training curriculum lasts approximately one year, and many current Air Force RPA pilots and trainers have already completed undergraduate pilot training in manned aircraft as well. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young)
Fact: Our Airmen are trained to be the best pilots in the world, regardless of aircraft. Our fully qualified aircrews consistently exceed expectations for both flight safety and operational effectiveness. Like pilots in manned aircraft RPA pilots are required to meet the same qualifications. New RPA pilots undergo a very intense training program before they fly operational missions. This training curriculum lasts approximately one year, and many current Air Force RPA pilots and trainers have already completed undergraduate pilot training in manned aircraft as well. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young)

8. Myth: Everyone in the RPA community suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

 Fact: According to a 2014 paper from the United Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, studies have shown that 4.3 percent of Air Force RPA operators report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. This is lower than the 4 to 18% of PTSD reported among those returning from the battlefield and lower than the projected lifetime risk of PTSD for Americans (8.7%, American Psychiatric Association, 2013). In addition, Creech Air Force Base established a Human Performance Team in 2011 comprised of an operational psychologist, an operational and aerospace physiologist, three flight surgeons and two Religious Support Teams to aid Airmen in dealing with stressors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay)
Fact: According to a 2014 paper from the United Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, studies have shown that 4.3 percent of Air Force RPA operators report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. This is lower than the 4 to 18% of PTSD reported among those returning from the battlefield and lower than the projected lifetime risk of PTSD for Americans (8.7%, American Psychiatric Association, 2013). In addition, Creech Air Force Base established a Human Performance Team in 2011 comprised of an operational psychologist, an operational and aerospace physiologist, three flight surgeons and two Religious Support Teams to aid Airmen in dealing with stressors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay)

9. Myth: RPA aircrews are not compassionate to the missions they perform.

Fact: Airmen performing RPA operations receive moral, ethical, psychological and physiological training to build readiness that is sustainable over time. The Air Force will continue to support combatant commanders with RPA missions while also focusing on initiatives that reduce stress on personnel and remain committed to providing the best care possible for every Airman, regardless of the career field with which they are associated.(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay)
Fact: Airmen performing RPA operations receive moral, ethical, psychological and physiological training to build readiness that is sustainable over time. The Air Force will continue to support combatant commanders with RPA missions while also focusing on initiatives that reduce stress on personnel and remain committed to providing the best care possible for every Airman, regardless of the career field with which they are associated.(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay)

10. Myth: RPAs will replace manned aircraft

 Fact: According to Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Mark A. Welsh III, “the Air Force needs a number of platforms.” He continued by saying this includes manned and unmanned assets to accomplish sustainable air supremacy. “Air superiority is a mission. It's not a platform, it's a mission. So ideally, you'd have both tools available to you." (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay)
Fact: According to Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Mark A. Welsh III, “the Air Force needs a number of platforms.” He continued by saying this includes manned and unmanned assets to accomplish sustainable air supremacy. “Air superiority is a mission. It’s not a platform, it’s a mission. So ideally, you’d have both tools available to you.” (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay)

Despite the misconceptions surrounding the RPA enterprise Air Force leadership remain optimistic on the future capabilities RPAs can provide.

“What our RPA professionals are doing in today’s fight and in preparing for future conflicts is simply incredible. RPAs and their operators are in the highest demand from our combatant commanders because of the situational awareness and strike capabilities that they enable. Despite being some of the newest weapon systems in the Air Force inventory, RPAs fulfill critical demands in every theater 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” said Gen. Hawk Carlisle, Air Combat Command commander.

Special Tactics Airmen march to honor fallen brothers in arms

151004-F-GV347-021By 1st Lt. Katrina Cheesman, 24th Special Operations Wing

After more than 800 miles on the road, 20 Special Tactics Airmen finished their journey to honor fallen teammates, crossing through the gate here with families of those Special Tactics Airmen killed in combat.

The march was held specifically for Capt. Matthew Roland, special tactics officer, and Staff Sgt. Forrest Sibley, combat controller, who were killed in action, Aug. 26, 2015, Afghanistan.

“These men walked 812 miles, demonstrating to the vast majority of the southern part of America what our country values,” said Lt. Gen. Brad Heithold, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command. “And that’s people who are willing to make sacrifices.”

Special Tactics Airmen honor fallen with memorial marchThe marchers walked day and night through five states to honor the fallen special operators who gave their lives in service to their country, relaying the 812 miles in two-man teams. Continue reading Special Tactics Airmen march to honor fallen brothers in arms

Worldwide Air Force

The Air Force mission is to fly, fight, and win in air, space, and cyberspace anytime and anywhere. Every time I see images or watch video footage of my fellow Airmen I’m motivated even more to live out the Air Force core values. It’s almost like hearing your favorite song before you go to work out. After you hear the song, you are mentally prepared to accomplish your workout goals.

Here are a few videos that highlight parts of the Air Force mission from around the world that truly give insight into the amazing things Airmen are doing across the Air Force.  We’ll be sure to share more videos in the future of other Air Force missions. I chose to highlight these videos because of the job diversity shown in each video. We have more than planes in the Air Force; people assume we are all pilots or aircraft maintainers. All of the jobs in the Air Force reinforce our mission to fly, fight and win. We are truly one team! We will never falter, and we will not fail

Air Force Special Operations Command’s  primary mission is to deliver highly trained, capable and ready Airmen to conduct special operations. The mission is to organize, train and equip Airmen to execute global special operations.

The primary mission of U .S. Air Forces Pacific Air  Force (PACAF) is to deliver rapid and precise air, space and cyberspace capabilities to protect and defend the United States, its territories and our allies and partners; provide integrated air and missile warning and defense; promote interoperability throughout the Pacific area of responsibility; maintain strategic access and freedom of movement across all domains; and posture to respond across the full spectrum of military contingencies in order to restore regional security.

U.S. Air Forces in Europe Air Forces Africa (USAFE) directs air operations in a theater spanning three continents, covering more than 19 million square miles, containing 104 independent states, and possessing more than a quarter of the world’s population and more than a quarter of the world’s Gross Domestic Product.

What Air Force mission intrigues you the most?

GO AIR FORCE, SINK NAVY

By Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie

Air Force Social Media

On Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, the Air Force Academy football team begins the hunt for the coveted Commander in Chief’s Trophy.

The hardcore hardware, weighing 170 pounds, goes to the team that wins the most football games in a competition between the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy each season.

The Commander in Chief's Trophy is seen here in the lobby of the 10th Air Base Wing Headquarters building here Dec. 1, 2014. The trophy is awarded to the winner of the service academies' college football triangular series. Air Force won the trophy when it defeated Army 23-6 Nov. 1. (U.S. Air Force photo by Liz Copan/Released)
The Commander in Chief’s Trophy is seen here in the lobby of the 10th Air Base Wing Headquarters building here Dec. 1, 2014. The trophy is awarded to the winner of the service academies’ college football triangular series. Air Force won the trophy when it defeated Army 23-6 Nov. 1. (U.S. Air Force photo by Liz Copan/Released)

The trophy was created by service academy alumni in 1972. The Air Force Falcons claimed the trophy for the 19th time during their game against the Army Black Knights with a score of 23-6 in November 2014.

We’re taking a look back at last year’s accomplishments when the Air Force beat Navy during the round robin.

I have compiled some of the best images from last year’s game. Hope you’ll enjoy.

GO AIR FORCE, SINK NAVY

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Running a Marathon? Last-Minute Tips Before the Big Race

By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

Marathon photo
Dr. Mark Cucuzzella during the 2014 Air Force Marathon.

It’s that time of year – marathon time! Some of you might be running your first one, too, which can be daunting. Here are some tips to get you through your final days of prep and to make it to the finish line.

One of the most important things first-time runners need to know: How to use food as fuel correctly.

“To run a marathon, you need to be a butter burner, not a bagel burner. You have to be able to efficiently use fat as fuel,” said Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, the Air Force Marathon’s chief medical consultant.

Continue reading Running a Marathon? Last-Minute Tips Before the Big Race