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Drone Pilot is Marine Corps' Top 'Aviator of the Year'

Major Shane Gentry USMC First Drone Pilot Named Aviator of the Year

Major Shane Gentry, a third-generation Marine and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) pilot, was recently named the 2024 Marine Aviator of the Year, a distinguished accolade traditionally reserved for pilots of manned aircraft.

This historic recognition marks the first time a drone pilot has been honored with the prestigious Alfred A. Cunningham Award, an annual recognition given by the Marine Corps Aviation Association.

At the helm of MQ-9A MUX/MALE drones, Major Gentry has significantly advanced the capabilities of Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3, demonstrating the growing strategic importance of UAVs in modern military operations. His leadership and innovation have not only redefined the role of drone technology in combat scenarios but also underscored the unmanned community's integral role in the evolution of Marine Corps aviation.

The journey to this achievement started nearly a decade ago when a freshly commissioned Gentry, driven by a fascination with new technologies and a desire to contribute significantly to military operations, chose to enter the nascent field of unmanned systems. Throughout his career, Gentry has piloted various UAV models, including the RQ-21 and RQ-7B, before advancing to the MQ-9A, contributing to critical missions overseas and shaping the operational landscape.

Gentry's recognition also reflects the broader shifts within the Marine Corps, where unmanned systems are now pivotal in tactical and strategic roles. His work with VMU-3 has led to significant advancements in drone operations, enhancing the lethality and survivability of manned aircraft and adding a new dimension to aerial warfare.

The Cunningham Award, named after Lieutenant Alfred A. Cunningham, the first Marine aviator, symbolizes the pinnacle of achievement in Marine aviation. Gentry's receipt of this award not only honors his personal contributions but also signifies a landmark moment in military aviation history, marking the acceptance and appreciation of unmanned systems within the highest echelons of the Marine Corps.

As Major Gentry prepares to receive his award at the upcoming 52nd Annual MCAA Symposium in Dallas, Texas, he represents a significant evolution in the role of aviation in warfare and the future trajectory of the Marine Corps. His pioneering work and the efforts of his team at VMU-3 underscore the critical importance of UAVs and their role in enhancing the capabilities of the Marine Corps in the years to come.



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