Friday, December 18, 2009

Pilot makes history after graduating from Weapons School

Maj. Tammy Barlette, a former A-10 pilot who left active duty to fly MQ-1 Predators over Iraq and Afghanistan full time with the Air National Guard, gets familiar with an MQ-9 Reaper at Nellis AFB, Nevada. She is the first and only ANG Predator pilot to graduate from the Air Force's Weapons Instructor Course. She and three active duty Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) operators were the first to attend the rigorous weapons and tactics training program. (Courtesy photo) Hi-res

by Maj. Gabe Johnson
162nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

12/17/2009 - NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- An Air Guard Predator pilot marked the beginning of a new era as the first Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) pilot from the Reserve Component to graduate from the Air Force's prestigious Weapons Instructor Course, Dec. 12.

Maj. Tammy Barlette, from the Arizona Air National Guard's 214th Reconnaissance Group based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, completed the five-and-a-half month course along with three active duty RPA pilots. They were the first to attend the school in its 60-year history.

The Weapons School, regarded as the U.S. Air Force's premier weapons and tactics training program, provides graduate-level instructor academic and flying courses. Its graduates are regarded as top authorities in their respective fields.

"I've been through a lot of training but nothing as difficult as this," said Major Barlette, a former A-10 pilot who left active duty to fly MQ-1 Predators over Iraq and Afghanistan full time with the Guard.

"The course is intended to make you the best instructor you can be for your squadron, weapon system and the Air Force. They teach you how to get to the root of a problem and find solutions," she said. "It's constant studying, briefing and flying."

Within the first month she had to get qualified to fly the MQ-9 Reaper. The course requires RPA pilots to have dual qualification in both the Predator and Reaper so that they can routinely fly training missions with various platforms to include A-10s, F-15s and F-16s.

The school, initially created for fighter pilots, now integrates Airmen from 22 different aircraft and specialties. The addition of RPAs is an indication of their value in current conflicts, and the need for their inclusion in the broader Air Force mission.

"Our training was focused on preparation for the next conflict," said the major. "The course taught us to keep a focus on the future so that, when required, a vast array of weapon systems can integrate in any number of situations. I feel like I have a better grasp of how all of these capabilities compliment each other, and I think officers from other Air Force communities got a better understanding of what RPAs bring to the fight."

Back at her unit, Major Barlette will be her commander's resident expert and will be relied upon to teach fellow Predator pilots how to improve operations.

"Everyone else in the unit will be marching behind her so we can learn how to better serve our customers; the troops on the ground," said Lt. Col. Randy Inman, 214th commander.

"We're very proud to have Tammy represent our unit, the state and the Air National Guard," said Colonel Inman. "We recognize the historic significance of her accomplishment, and I know it was one that did not come without personal sacrifice."

One year ago Barlette was five-months pregnant with her second child when she learned of her selection to attend the school. Accepting the appointment meant she would have to leave her 1-year-old daughter and new-born son in the following July.

"I talked it over with my husband and he said, 'You have to go. We'll figure out the rest.' He was very supportive, and my parents, who live in Tucson, helped us out tremendously," said Barlette.

Though Major Barlette admits the family separation was difficult, she says her new qualification as a weapons instructor will serve her and the RPA community well.

"I just wanted to go to the school to get answers. I wanted to get better and I wanted to help my squadron get better," she said.

According to the major, Weapon School patch wearers from RPA units across the country will enjoy the added benefit of being able to cross check ideas with each other.

"It's starting to connect us all," she said.


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