Yesterday (Wednesday), IAF RPAV (Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicle) Course 32 has come to an end. The cadets were awarded their insignia by the Commander of the IAF and officially joined the ranks of the RPAV Division
They are standing on the parade ground with six challenging months behind them and years of defending the country ahead of them. Today (Wednesday), IAF RPAV (Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicle) Course 32 has come to an end. IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin awarded the cadets their insignia, and thus marked their official induction into the RPAV Division.
"At the Lebanese border, at the Golan Heights, at the Gaza Strip; in all theatres and in any mission, there will always be an RPAV", said Maj. Gen. Norkin. "You are joining the RPAV Division, which works around the clock, taking on more and more missions as time goes by. 2018 will end in two weeks – a year in which the IAF's service members performed wide-scale operations in all theatres. The force showed initiative and determination while its personnel showed courage and dexterity. Our expected challenges will be as difficult next year as they were this year, but I know I have people I can trust".
This year, as a result of operational demands, the IAF recruited the largest number of RPAV operators so far. "Qualifying so many cadets was challenging but we did it well", said Lt. Col. L', the Commander of the RPAV Academy.
Being an RPAV Operator
The course was six months long and made up of four stages. Qualification included studies of flight elements and the RPAV Division, all while developing creative thinking – after this, the cadets flew their concluding sorties. As part of the practical flight training, the cadets were required to handle complex situations.
"In certain facets, operating RPAVs is simpler than manually flying an aircraft", said Lt. Col. L'. "On the other hand, some facets are much more complex. As an operator, you have to know what your aircraft is doing at any given moment. You don't have the ability to feel it physically".
What does one need in order to become an RPAV operator? "The abilities to make decisions and work under pressure are the most important characteristics of any operator", added Lt. Col. L'. "Each operator operates an aircraft and fights from the air during operational activity. It poses a direct influence on human lives, both ours and the enemy's. It requires the academy's faculty to constantly deal with these topics". These topics are presented in two ways: ground and aerial. As part of the aerial training, the faculty simulates situations in which the cadets need to handle unexpected events both during and after sorties. As part of the ground training, the cadets undergo lessons and seminars meant to improve mental fortitude.
The new RPAV operators underwent a different course than the ones their predecessors did, seeing as the last course occurred in parallel with a significant bout of warfare in the southern theatre. What does one do at the RPAV Academy during operational activity? "The academy has no unique trainer aircraft of its own, so the aircraft and control stations we utilize belong to the operational squadrons", elaborated Lt. Col. L'. "In addition, the academy instructors are also operators at the squadrons".
The warfare required the RPAV Academy to shut down for two days. "The academy was closed and the instructors returned to the squadrons while the aircraft and control stations began participating in operational activity. However, this situation provided us with an opportunity", emphasized Lt. Col. L'. "On days like these, we take the cadets and put them in positions they are qualified to man in the operational squadrons – debriefs, aircraft examination and additional missions. We may not have trained in those days, but the cadets learned a lot and got to see their future operational activity from up close".
During the bout of warfare, 2nd Lt. B' – a cadet at the course – arrived at the "First Zik" Squadron, which operates "Zik" (Hermes 450) RPAVs, and watched an operational sortie. "The sortie had an operator and a mission commander just like any regular sortie, but suddenly the operator had to leave for a few minutes", recalled 2nd Lt. B'. "Suddenly, we heard on the radio communications that there was an area from which rockets were about to be launched and that they needed an RPAV in the air", he went on. "It was just like in the movies. The mission commander looked at me; I looked at him, at the operator post and then at him again. I was seated at the post in a manner of seconds. Under the commander's supervision, I piloted the aircraft to the relevant position and aimed the camera at the correct location. It was a moment I will never forget. All of a sudden, everything I had learned before became reality".
Searching For Significance
There are various significant roles in the IAF, but the word "significance" takes on a different definition when related to the work of the RPAV operators. 2nd Lt. Y', one of the course's cadets, gave the word much thought even before arriving at the operator course. "Before enlisting, I participated in a pre-army service year in which I worked with 11th-grade teens", shared 2nd Lt. Y'. "Some of the youths I worked with approached me and told me personal stories which they'd never told others. In some cases, I had to act quickly and knew that whatever I would do would be influential", he added. "I was required to be calm and collected under pressure. This is similar to moments I experience in the control station nowadays – this same feeling comes over me during crucial moments in sorties and exercises".
If we ask 2nd Lt. Y' what he learned from the course, the answer is clear: significance. He concluded: "I realized that I wanted to make a contribution. I felt that I wanted to be truly significant to my country and friends".