F-16 Squadron Switches to Flying Drones
A fully armed MQ-9 Reaper taxis down a runway in Southwest Asia. The Reaper's primary mission is as a persistent hunter-killer against emerging targets.
CREDIT: U.S. Air Force | Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson
U.S. National Guard fighter pilots will trade in their F-16 jets for robotic drones the next time the squadron flies missions over Afghanistan.
Iowa National Guard's 132nd Fighter Wing represents the latest group of fighter pilots to undergo a change in job description as the U.S. Air Force leans more heavily on its growing swarm of military drones, according to the Omaha World-Herald. The decision comes as part of the latest U.S. defense spending bill negotiated by Congress and signed by President Obama in December.
This is not the first case of fighter jocks giving up the thrills of the cockpit in exchange for remotely controlling military drones thousands of miles away. The 174th Fighter Wing of the New York Air National Guard has flown Reaper drones rather than F-16s for the past two years.
The Air Force marked a historic moment by training more drone pilots than both fighter and bomber pilots combined last year — a trend that looks likely to accelerate in the coming years. Many military and defense analysts have also predicted that the latest-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be the last manned fighter aircraft made in the West.