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This Enlisted Woman Is the 1st to Fly Air Force Drones

Tech. Sgt. Courtney has her remotely piloted aircraft wings pinned on by sons David and Riley during an RPA Training Course graduation Aug. 4, 2017, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. (U.S. Air Force/Ave I. Young)
Tech. Sgt. Courtney has her remotely piloted aircraft wings pinned on by sons David and Riley during an RPA Training Course graduation Aug. 4, 2017, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. (U.S. Air Force/Ave I. Young)

The Air Force has its first female enlisted Global Hawk drone pilot.

The service said Tech. Sgt. Courtney completed its undergraduate remotely piloted aircraft training program known as the Enlisted Pilot Initial Class program, on Aug. 4. at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. She graduated alongside three other pilots.

"Tech. Sgt. Courtney doesn't do this because she's a girl. 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 Air Education and Training Command's 558th Flying Training Squadron.

"That's who she is. She's not a woman pilot; she's a pilot," Natalie said in a service release.

The pilots and instructors' last names were withheld given the sensitivity of their mission, the release said.

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The Air Force has expanded its RPA reach by training enlisted airmen on the RQ-4 Global Hawk.

The service announced in 2015 it would begin training enlisted airmen to operate the unarmed high-altitude reconnaissance RQ-4 drone. It is currently training pilots through the EPIC program, as well as the Initial Flight Training program.

"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."

Courtney began her intelligence career as an imagery analyst and a sensor operator for the MQ-1 Predator. Sensor operators often sit "right seat" during RPA training and also in a live, ground station scenario.

"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 in the release.

The first three EPIC students graduated from training May 5, 2017, the release said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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