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Pioneer Predator pilot remotely sees blue skies ahead

  • Published
  • By Maj. Dennis Fournier
  • Joint Force Headquarters Public Affairs
Editor's note: The last names of the individuals in the article do not appear due to Air Force policy.

When he was selected to become a Predator pilot, Nevada Air Guard Capt. Adam had no idea he was destined to become a pioneer in Air National Guard history.

Adam is the first Air National Guard graduate of the 18X MQ1 Predator remotely-piloted aircraft pilot training course, according to Cathy Rico, the chief of graduate flying training at the National Guard Bureau, and Col. Dana Hessheimer, the commander of the 163rd Reconnaissance Wing. The 18X course produces trained Predator pilots out of Airmen with no previous traditional, manned-aircraft piloting experience.

Previously, RPA candidates were selected from a pool comprised of pilots with experience flying manned aircraft such as F-16s, A-10s and KC-135s. The select pilots then attended the RPA initial qualification course and quickly became RPA operators.

To become a Predator pilot, Adam first completed a nine-week undergraduate RPA course. Students enrolled in the course fly a minimum of 39 hours in the DA-20, a two-seat, general aviation aircraft designed for flight training.

Adam then spent four months at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, to train on a T-6 simulator to learn instrument flight rules and RPA fundamentals. Finally, he attended the MQ1-B initial qualification course for three months at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., to master MQ-1 airframe capabilities and dynamics.

Lt. Col. Warren, Adam's commander in the 232nd Operations Squadron, explained the circumstances surrounding the decision to place Adam directly into Predator training. The 232nd Operations Squadron is a Nevada Air Guard classic-associate unit located outside of Las Vegas.  "Budgetary constraints made the decision to enroll Adam in the 18X pipeline an efficient one," Warren said. "In Adam, I saw an officer who sincerely wanted to be a Predator pilot and a Nevada Guardsman, so my staff and I worked hard to help make that happen for him. The Nevada Air Guard and the warfighters are the beneficiaries."

Adam said he was grateful for the support he received from both the Air Guard and active duty leadership while on his odyssey to become a pilot.

"The support of the 232nd Operations Squadron, especially from the many who were there for my 'winging' ceremony, has been nothing short of incredible," Adam said. "I am indebted to the Nevada Air National Guard for the opportunity."

Adam, 34, received his commission through San Diego State's Air Force ROTC program and then spent six years as a navigator on the EC-130. While on active duty, Adam kept his eye on RPA operations and, realizing the certain growth of RPA flying programs, pondered his own future in remotely piloted flight.

The Las Vegas resident said he is not concerned with the prospect of being labeled "just" an RPA pilot.
"I am a huge proponent of RPA and I want to be a pioneer for this evolving capability," Adam said. "RPA is the future and more manned airborne platforms are going to migrate toward remotely piloted flight.

"I am the youngest RPA pilot in the Nevada Guard and I look forward to growing with this capability and contributing to the future. I see nothing but blue skies ahead."

Since his graduation, Adam has flown more than 300 hours collecting visual information that became intelligence products for ground forces. He has not employed his airborne weapons yet, but his training has prepared him for any scenario.

He said flying the Predator is challenging and he still has much to learn.

"The building block approach in the training curriculum has prepared me for this incredible responsibility," Adam said. "This is a very dynamic platform with countless capabilities, and my training has given me the confidence to fly and execute in a sink or swim environment where the only option is to swim."

Adam comes from a military family and he welcomes the opportunity to continue serving in the Nevada Air Guard. His two sisters also currently serve in the Army and Navy respectively.
"I want to continue the legacy of service that my father began with his 27 years of service in the Navy," Adam said.

Adam stressed the importance of family support throughout his career.

"My military service and my transition to the Nevada Air Guard would not have been possible without the support of my mom and dad, and specifically my wife," said the father of two. "She has endured my hectic deployment and training obligations and has been supportive of my career decisions. Her understanding of shift work, deployments and additional duties make my success in serving my country her accomplishment.

"This is a dream come true."