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Training academy graduates first General Atomics aircrews

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General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. announced that the company's new Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Flight Training Academy graduated the first cadre of aircrews on Aug. 12 from its North Dakota-based facility.

"Our first graduates have benefitted from safe, effective, cutting-edge training that will enable them to support flight operations for our global customers," said David Alexander, General Atomics’ president of aircraft systems. "We look forward to providing the same high-quality training services to our customers' aircrews to meet their growing demands in the very near future."

A General Atomics news release said the training academy—located at the Grand Sky UAS Business and Aviation Park adjacent to the Grand Forks (North Dakota) U.S. Air Force Base—demonstrates a dramatic reduction in the time required to train qualified aircrew. This expands the company's ability to meet the growing demand for Predator-series UAS and the aircrew required to fly them.

Before the academy opened in June, training occurred at the General Atomics California flight operations facilities, where long logistical pipelines stretched aircrew instruction to as long as six months.

According to the company, students can now complete their UAS training in as little as two months. Pilots complete 15 flights (36 hours), 25 simulator lessons (59 hours) and 114 hours of academic studies. Sensor operator training time is similar, although slightly fewer hours are required for graduation.

Three pilots comprised the academy's first graduating class. Five additional pilots and six sensor operators will follow shortly. After graduating, the new aircrews will join General Atomics’ approximately 230 qualified aircrews currently deployed around the world.

Before entering training, all General Atomics UAS pilots must possess a Bachelor's degree, an FAA commercial instrument pilot rating and accumulate 300 hours as a pilot-in-command. For sensor operators, a commercial pilot rating or a private pilot license is required. Both pilots and sensor operators also must be able to maintain a Class II FAA medical certificate and to obtain and maintain a U.S. Department of Defense security clearance,

General Atomics UAS Flight Training Academy graduates are qualified aircrews for the Predator A. The company expects to have its second training system—a Predator B—available before the end of this year, providing students with the opportunity to qualify on both aircraft.

General Atomics said that as an additional benefit, the training academy can serve to augment U.S. Air Force UAS training programs.

Story written by Patrick C. Miller and published by UAS Magazine

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