Drone Standards Tough To Reach For Young Pilots

2015-11-11

Drone Standards Tough To Reach For Young Pilots
Megan Halek could be the best unmanned aircraft pilot coming out of the University of North Dakota’s highly regarded aviation program this year: Shes aced a training program and has enough air experience to fly private jets worldwide.

That wont be enough to land her dream job, flying the Predator drone for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Though she would enthusiastically take on a job that currently falls to federal pilots whod mostly rather be up in the air, shes more than 1,300 hours short of the federal agencys required actual flight time and doesnt have the proper flying certificate.

“The CBP has their standards, and rightly so. Theyre looking for qualified people,” said UND aviation professor John Bridewell, who is Haleks faculty adviser. But at some point you have to question if theres a tradeoff between someone who simply has hours and this particular certificate versus someone who has capabilities and wants to be there.

Officials said they are looking at changing their hiring practices — especially since the majority of its pilot workforce is made up of baby-boomer federal agents that must retire at 57 but could not discuss specifics. Other agencies that fly drones, like some branches of the military, have less strict guidelines. Loosening the rules also could give students a stable, well-paying job out of college, rather than flying with regional airlines.

Updating hiring practices is a debate worth having, given the many job openings on the horizon among its 1,200-strong staff, according to Max Raterman, who directs the CBPs Air and Marine Operations in Grand Forks.

I would say the agency is aware of the concerns of not being able to hire enough pilots, he said. Its what to do about it.

Steve Bodin, a civilian pilot who had about 3,500 flying hours when he was hired with CBP in 2009, said hed rather be flying a plane than operating a drone.

Youre going out and getting somewhere, the 32-year-old said. The unmanned is cutting-edge stuff and were at the front line of it so this is interesting. But its not flying.

The Predator drone a $13 million piece of equipment is the most difficult plane, manned or unmanned, that Bodin said he has to land. Its harder to feel connected to a drone, he said.

When you are flying a real airplane you can feel that kinetic sense, you have a peripheral view. You can sense the ground coming up, stuff like that, he said. With the unmanned, theres no sound, theres no feeling, theres no rumbling or anything in there.

Its all what you perceive out of a video monitor. Its a 2D plane and its all pretty much reactive.

Halek decided from the first day of college that she wanted to major in unmanned aircraft.

I am a pilot. I love being in the sky, said the 22-year-old whos set to graduate next month. But this is something new and a platform I had my eye on since day one. I want to be in a program that is up and coming.

Raterman acknowledged that many college pilots have the technological savvy and the interest in flying unmanned aircraft.

I think that will be helpful, but is that enough? he asked. As an emerging technology and platform, I do think its going to sort itself out. I think were all going to look back one day and say we were there back in the day when we were deciding this (hiring) model.




Drones Newest Mission is Disaster Relief

2015-08-11
Drones Newest Mission is Disaster Relief
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Folding Drone Unfurls in Fraction of a Second

2015-08-10
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Engineering teams around the world are putting significant time, effort and research dollars into the idea of using aerial drones in disaster relief scenarios. It makes a lot of sense: Drones are able to fly into dangerous or inaccessible locations and — outfitted with cameras and communications gear can provide reconnaissance imagery of a disaster site or even make initial contact with survivors.

Unmanned aircraft taking to Texas skies for FAA testing

2014-02-27
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Northwestern Michigan College unmanned drone program lends students unique opportunities

2014-01-27
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'Messengers of Death': Are Drones Creating a New Global Arms Race?

2011-10-23
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They are difficult to detect, deadly and cheap to build. Despite the dubious legality of assassinating suspected terrorists and Taliban without a trial, the market for drones is heating up around the world. With Israel and China moving into the market, are we about to see a new arms race?

Northrop Grumman Aims To Take On Predator

2011-05-10
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The Terminators: drone strikes prompt MoD to ponder ethics of killer robots

2011-04-21
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The growing use of unmanned aircraft in combat situations raises huge moral and legal issues, and threatens to make war more likely as armed robots take over from human beings, according to an internal study by the Ministry of Defence.

UAV market set to double

2011-03-31
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While few would dispute that unmanned air systems have transformed military aviation during the past decade, it is looking increasingly certain that the coming 10 years will see huge change in unmanned air vehicles themselves. It would not be excessive to call the next couple of years a genuine watershed in the development of UAVs.


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