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Beta Program Success: 178th Wing Airman becomes the first MQ-9 pilot in the Air Force to hold a command position in an Attack Squadron

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio --

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio-- Achieving the status of being a commander is no easy feat. It is a huge accomplishment in an Airman’s career and brings on a new level of responsibility for them to endure. These Airmen stand out amongst their peers through their hard work, dedication, intellect and commitment to providing for those they are in charge of leading.

On October 1, 2019, Lt. Col. Bradley Allen took command of the 162nd Attack Squadron at the 178th Wing. In this historic ceremony, Allen became the first 18X to take control of a remotely piloted aircraft attack squadron. This monumental moment marked the success of the beta program that began ten years prior.

“Having this milestone for 18Xs and the RPA community, to have someone who has grown up in the community and then takes command, solidifies that this is a valid career path,” said Allen. “This marks the end, in my opinion, of the beta experiment. We’ve seen a whole host of firsts coming out of the 18X community. I think that this accomplishment is a complete validation and solidification of the RPA Beta Program.”

In 2008, the Air Force recognized a manning shortfall in the RPA community. In 2009, the Air Force created a beta program geared towards training a new generation of aviators to exclusively fly the MQ-1, MQ-9, and RQ-4 weapons systems.

“This training program’s goal was to bolster the manning inside the RPA community while developing a brand new pilot culture inside the Air Force,” said Allen. “This was something that hadn’t been done. One of the secondary goals was to look at new ways of training pilots through simulation usage and different timeline requirements.”

The experimental program consisted of five different beta classes and incorporated Airmen from all different career fields. The pipeline separated these pilots from the traditional pilot training track and created a new training course that was focused on more specialized, specific training for RPAs. The course also was geared towards developing a brand new type of pilot mindset for this unique platform. From this beta program, a new career field emerged designating remotely piloted aircraft pilots as an 18X.

As with any major changes, there came speculation and hesitation on whether or not the program could produce pilots who could effectively accomplish the mission at hand. Traditional pilots were concerned about these new aviators having less flying hours in a manned aircraft. There was a lot of uncertainty around how successful the new career field would be.

“In the flight community, the initial attitude towards the program was never negative,” said Allen. “It was always just a question of “Is this going to be good enough?” and “Is this what is needed for the platform?” At the time, nobody knew.”

Allen, who was a B-52H Electronic Warfare Officer by trade, entered the program after being medically disqualified from flying manned aircraft. After completing the program in 2010 in beta class three, he was stationed at Creech Air Force Base. With the MQ-1s and the MQ-9s being a fairly new and emerging weapons system, many people outside of the community did not know the weapons system’s capabilities. Allen was assigned to be a part of NATO operations and was sent to NATO Combined Air Operations Center and EUCOM Air Operations Center to be a liaison officer for the RPA community. He worked internationally to educate military personnel on the capabilities of the RPAs.

“Being a weapons officer and being able to help plan and execute an operation for your platform, knowing that you are among the first ones to do it is absolutely amazing,” said Allen. “It was worth it to see the fruition of that and meet the commander’s intent.”

Allen then focused on getting the airframes to participate in joint exercise and was successful when his unit participated in Red Flag 13-3. This exercise showcased the capabilities of the platform, how well it performed reachback, and how well it integrated into joint environments. Allen left active duty in 2014 and transitioned to the Ohio Air National Guard where he continued his flying career at the 178th Wing.

“Ohio took a chance,” said Allen. “I was the first 18X in Ohio that transitioned [from Active Duty] to the Guard. They took a chance when they hired me.”

During his time at the Wing, he led the Operations Group through expanding their area of responsibility and the Wing’s own transition of air frames when the Wing transitioned from operating the MQ-1Bs to operating the MQ-9s. In October of 2019, he was chosen to lead the squadron as the commander of the 162nd Attack Squadron. This solidified him as the first 18X to command an RPA Attack Squadron and thus signified the success of the Air Force’s beta program.

“I’m honored to be a part of the 18Xers and the RPA community’s long list of firsts,” said Allen. “To be able to be a part of that is an honor and absolutely humbling. It helps solidify how far 18xers have come and that this is a career path.”

Allen’s accomplishment not only paved a path for other 18X’s to step into leadership roles, but it solidified the effectiveness of 18X pilots and the value they bring to the Air Force. It highlights how valuable and indispensable the skills and intellect of these pilots are and the importance of their capabilities in a combat environment. The accomplishment solidified the success of the Air Force’s goal for the beta program ten years prior.

“I think that this defines that the program and its initial concepts were on point,” said Allen. “It validates the program and that the ideas, the thoughts, and the concepts behind its inception were completely valid. It has been a long road of execution but I think it has proven that this was the way to go for this community and for the Air Force.”

As more 18X Airmen step into leadership roles, the RPA weapon’s system is put into the hands of leaders who know the ins and outs of the system which brings an unique perspective to the table. Allen’s accomplishment opened doors for other 18X Airmen and marked the beginning of 18Xs filling leadership roles within their career field.

“To be able to lead a platform accurately and capably, you need to understand the struggles of everybody under your command,” said Allen. “We now have people in command that have grown up in this community and have been in every single seat within the community. To be able to understand the struggles of the different positions, from a leadership perspective when you're asking your Airmen to do things, I think it's absolutely critical.”