From the ground up: RPA communications

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Daniel Liddicoet
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
Over the past decade, the Remotely Piloted Aircraft program has become an integral component of U.S. military operations world-wide.  Although RPAs are now a cornerstone of the Air Force's plan moving forward, many are still unaware of the subtle contributions Airmen make behind the scenes to ensure the success of the mission.

"The Ground Control Station that we are charged with maintaining is essentially the cockpit for our sensor operators and pilots that control the aircraft," explains Airman First Class Tyler Christian, 49th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron ground control station maintainer.  "We are responsible for making sure that all of the equipment and satellite communications run smoothly."

Holloman AFB is home to the primary training facilities for all RPA pilots and sensor operators in the Air Force, the program is responsible for preparing the flight crews for real-world combat missions. The importance of that responsibility is never lost on the Airmen involved.

As a communications airman, one of the key aspects of Christian's job is establishing a clean and reliable connection to the satellites that allow the pilots to remotely pilot the aircraft across the globe.

"I've always been passionate about telecommunications.  The idea that we establish a connection that allows our pilots to operate these aircraft overseas completely fascinates me.  I feel really lucky to be able to use my training to contribute to the RPA mission. "

Christian's day-to-day duties are incredibly unique to the Air Force because he must be able to blend the typical procedures of an aircraft maintainer with his duties as a communications airman.

"We have to mix a flightline and a communication mentality in order to do our job, but it's great to be able to see both sides of the job like that. In the same way that aircraft crew chiefs have their names on the side of an aircraft, our names go on the side of the GCS."

Alongside the aircraft maintainers and flight crew, the ground control station maintainers compose a critical piece of the RPA team that deploys around the world in support of the Air Force's various missions.

"I really feel that we are part of team here. We all have to work together to get these RPA's off the ground.  I know that our RPA program has grown a lot over the years, starting from just two to now 11 GCSs, I'm honored to be a part of that along with everybody."

Despite the vastly important nature of their work, and the direct impact it has on current operations overseas, the behind the scenes work of Airmen like Airman 1st Class Christian often go unnoticed.

"I think the RPA program is still kind of mysterious to most people. The way the aircraft operates day to day isn't really well known, but I'm proud to get a chance to be a part of this mission and contribute however I can."