By Tech. Sgt. Ave I. Young, 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs – The Air Force’s first female enlisted pilot completed Undergraduate Remotely Piloted Aircraft Training Aug. 4, 2017, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.

Tech. Sgt. Courtney is part of the Enlisted Pilot Initial Class.

In its 70 years as a separate military service the Air Force has relied almost exclusively on commissioned officers to pilot its aircraft. In December 2015, the Air Force announced it would begin including enlisted Airmen in its training to pilot RPAs. Twelve were selected and incorporated in the training program beginning October 2016. The first three EPIC students graduated from training May 5, 2017.

“Tech. Sgt. Courtney doesn’t do this because she’s a woman, she just gets up every day and puts her uniform on and comes to work and kicks butt because that’s what she does,” said Maj. Natalie, an instructor pilot with the 558th Flying Training Squadron. “That’s who she is. She’s not a woman pilot, she’s a pilot.”

The 558th FTRS is the sole source of undergraduate RPA training in the Air Force.

“It’s great to fill that role as the first female,” Courtney said. “It’s awesome and humbling, but our units don’t care if you’re male or female, they just want you to be a good pilot.”

In her 11-year career, the Vacaville, California native has been a part of the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance career field filling various roles such as imagery analyst and sensor operator for the MQ-1 Predator and the RQ-4 Global Hawk.

Undergraduate remotely piloted aircraft training is six months for RPA pilots, who sit in the left seat of an RPA control center during flight, and six weeks for their sensor operators, who sit in the right seat and control cameras mounted on the RPA. This accomplishment expands Courtney’s opportunities.

“I’ve been sitting in the right seat for a long time, so now I’m ready to sit in the left seat,” Courtney said.

Editors note

After learning about Courtney and her incredible accomplishments we wanted to learn more about her motivation and being the “first” in a male dominated field. In an email to WYSK she shared…

One of the things that has helped me get to where I am am is never giving up and always being ready to tackle any challenge. Anything in life worth being proud of will be challenging and even a struggle at times. Pushing through the rough times while chasing your goals is what makes an accomplishment have meaning. I have had to face my fair share of obstacles in both my personal life and my career, but everyday I continue to come in with a smile and don’t go home until I at least check one thing of my very long list of to dos. That way, no matter how horrible of a day it may seem to be I can hold my head high knowing that I at least did that ONE productive thing that day. Focusing on that positivity helps build up my motivation for the next day to do it all over again, but even better!

I am so glad that the Air Force has come such a long way on gender equality. The Enlisted Pilot Program has highlighted that fact by selecting the best qualified people for the training. I wasn’t selected because I was a woman. I was selected because of my reputation and performance throughout my career.

For airmen interested in becoming enlisted remotely piloted aircraft pilots the application is open until November 15, 2017. More information here.


This version of this article appeared on U.S. Air Force and is republished on Women You Should Know with express permission. A special thanks to Maj. Natalie for connecting us to Courtney. (Only first names of pilots are given because the Air Force limits disclosure of identifying information to first names for all RPA pilots and sensor operators throughout their careers).

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