Drone Pilots: The Future Of Aerial Warfare

2011-11-28

Drone Pilots: The Future Of Aerial Warfare

To understand how important remotely piloted aircraft are to the U.S. military, consider this: The U.S. Air Force says this year it will train more drone pilots than fighter and bomber pilots combined.And that's changing the nature of aerial warfare — and the pilots who wage it.Steve, a lieutenant colonel, grew up wanting to be in the Air Force. And that meant one thing: wanting to be a pilot.To him, flying is physical: the pull of gravity, the sounds inside the cockpit.

"You hear those things, you feel those things, and you react to them as you need to," he says.Steve joined the Air Force in 1997 and started out flying F-15s. But he quickly started to see signs that his world was changing. When he was given a chance to fly drones, he took it.Now, he is at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico helping the Air Force build a different kind of pilot.

The biggest training center of its kind in the United States, Holloman has become the primary training ground for pilots who fly unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.There, pilots learn to fly the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper, two of the military's most important weapons systems. These remotely controlled planes can hover in the air 24 hours at a time, collecting intelligence or carrying out a strike in Afghanistan.But the pilots are thousands of miles away, sitting in front of a bank of computer screens. And that distance, which is the strength of the program, has also created unique challenges.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, like this Predator (shown here in 2009 during training at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nev.), make up the fastest growing segment of the U.S. Air Force.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, like this Predator (shown here in 2009 during training at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nev.), make up the fastest growing segment of the U.S. Air Force.

Training For Remote Warfare

The student pilots at Holloman begin their training in simulator bays small rooms jam-packed with computer processors and monitors. It's there that they first get their hands on the remote controls.At their workstations, the student pilot sits on the left, the sensor operator the person who monitors the aircraft and weapons systems on the right. An instructor loads in images of Afghanistan and gives the assignment: The pilots, sitting in New Mexico, are to fly a drone over Afghanistan, providing an escort for Humvees.

"They're going to scan the route ... that they're supposed to travel on and see if there's any threats to that convoy," an instructor named Matt explains.Matt, like Steve and every other instructor and student at Holloman Air Force Base, are identified only by rank and first name to help protect their identity because of the "sensitive nature" of the remotely piloted aircraft mission, the Air Force says.

The training program at Holloman started in 2009. Slowly, service members started volunteering to fly the Predator drone.There are two big reasons for the shift. The first was the Sept. 11 attacks: America's borderless war on al-Qaida catapulted drone technology onto the front lines.

The second reason has been budget cuts: Air Force fighter pilots started to see their squadrons disappear. That's what happened to another lieutenant colonel named Mike. Until a year ago, he was an F-15 pilot. Now, he's also an instructor at Holloman."I felt with the F-15 drawdown that that community was closing up, and there'd be more opportunity but also a chance to be part of the fastest growing part of the Air Force," Mike says.Now, the challenge for Mike, Steve and other instructors at Holloman is to convince students that when they're operating drones, they are flying real airplanes.

A Cultural Divide

After the student pilots have mastered the simulator, they move on to ground control stations out on the tarmac. From these metal rectangular storage containers, the student pilots control Predators and Reapers out on test runs.A shift can go for hours, until another team comes to relieve them.Further out on the flight line sits one of the test planes, the MQ-9 Reaper.Training can be the only time drone pilots actually see the planes they'll fly, says Steve, the instructor.

"You normally just walk out to the container and you sit down and you fly, but you don't actually see this, and you're physically dislocated from where it's at," he says.Until recently, most drone operators were regular Air Force pilots. Now, the service is reaching out to people who've never even flown before. And that has caused friction within the Air Force as it tries to redefine what it means to be a pilot.

"There's a cultural divide," says Kelly, a 46-year-old Air Force reservist from Texas who is now a student at Holloman. Kelly grew up wanting to be a fighter pilot, but his vision is not good enough for that job. But he can fly drones. And he says that irks fighter pilots who see themselves at the top of the Air Force pyramid.

"Part of it is an ego ... I hate to say an ego trip, but it is," he says.The Air Force has been working to bridge the divide between these two groups of fliers. First off, drone operators are called pilots, and they wear the same green flight suits as fighter pilots, even though they never get in a plane. Their operating stations look like dashboards in a cockpit.

But all of that has made tensions worse. Aaron is another Holloman student. He used to fix military communications equipment; now he's training to operate drones.

"There's still a lot of animosity. You see people in a conventional aircrew that wonder why we get to wear the flight suits even though we don't leave the ground, why do we need flight physicals, why do we get incentive pay stuff like that," he says.

One of the reasons for the shift to unmanned aircraft has been fighter jet budget cuts. Here, a pilot climbs into a U.S. F-16 at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on Nov. 1.

One of the reasons for the shift to unmanned aircraft has been fighter jet budget cuts. Here, a pilot climbs into a U.S. F-16 at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on Nov. 1.

Distance Between Pilot And Plane

Steve and Mike, the former fighter pilots turned drone instructors, say the Air Force is going through a cultural change. It all goes back to the distance drones create between the pilot and his plane. It's something Steve is still trying to make sense of for himself.

"That distance and that separation is there that prevents you from feeling that piece of the airplane, or maybe being as one with the airplane. But what it also does is take the risk out of you flying the airplane, so you don't have to worry about being shot down," he says.

So the very thing that protects these pilots not being in the cockpit is what makes them wonder if they're really pilots.Outside, an F-22 flies overhead a plane with a fighter pilot in the cockpit. Fighter jets do fly out of Holloman. It helps remind new pilots like Kelly how they are supposed to think of themselves when they're flying a drone.

"I felt like I was actually flying an airplane. I mean, I actually am flying an airplane," he says.At least that's what he has to tell himself each time he sits at a computer, operating a plane thousands of miles away that he has never seen.

Source:www.npr.org




Russia is withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty.

2021-01-18
Russia is withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the country is beginning the procedure for withdrawing from the Treaty on Open Skies.

Exclusive video of application of the ZALA Lancet UAV at the training ground.

2020-12-26
Exclusive video of application of the ZALA Lancet UAV at the training ground.
ZALA Lancet is the first Russian-made unmanned airstrike system.

Drone application in the oil and gas sector

2020-12-23
Drone application in the oil and gas sector

Russia ranks 3rd in the World in the list of countries for oil production. The length of main pipelines in Russia is more than 250 000 km. Many pipelines often run in hard-to-reach areas of our country, which makes it difficult to monitor the condition of pipelines and increases the risk of illegal activities and violations. It is in such cases drones become an integral part of the oil and gas industry.

Results оf The International Helicopter Industry Exhibition HeliRussia 2020

2020-09-24
Results оf The International Helicopter Industry Exhibition HeliRussia 2020
HeliRussia is the only exhibition in Russia where world achievements of the entire range of products and services of the helicopter industry are presented. In 2020, the exhibition was held from September 15 to 17 at the Crocus Expo exhibition center, Moscow.

American retailer Walmart has launched the delivery of food and necessities using Flytrex drones.

2020-09-14
American retailer Walmart has launched the delivery of food and necessities using Flytrex drones.
On September 9, American retailer Walmart performed a pilot launch of food delivery using unmanned aircraft in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

SenseFly drones help monitor Lake Winnipeg ice hazards in Switzerland.

2020-09-12
SenseFly drones help monitor Lake Winnipeg ice hazards in Switzerland.

The project, which is part of the Canadian Space Agency's Earth observation applications development program (EODAP), was aimed at identifying and monitoring lake ice levels, as well as detecting cracks and pressure ridges to raise awareness among local communities and first responders about the risks of moving lake ice.

Development of unmanned aircraft on Military-Technical Forum "ARMY-2020"

2020-09-03
Development of unmanned aircraft on Military-Technical Forum "ARMY-2020"
On August 29, Military-Technical Forum "Army-2020" ended, although only a few months ago this event was under the big question due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, the Forum was held and the results were impressive. Mostly participants and visitors of the forum were impressed by the display of domestic unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Pros and Cons of Drone Delivery

2020-04-30
The Pros and Cons of Drone Delivery
The idea of commercial delivery drones is more relevant now than ever as social distancing guidelines have made contactless delivery an essential part of company operations. ‘

The first drone delivery was a tasty one: Dominos delivered two pizzas to a residence in New Zealand in 2016. Since then, companies have been racing towards liftoff.



Medical Drone Delivery Success in Ireland

2020-04-06
Medical Drone Delivery Success in Ireland
In September, it was reported on the world’s first BVLOS medical delivery in Ireland.

Researchers at NUI Galway partnered with German drone startup Wingcopter to transport prescription medication and blood samples for diabetes patients.

This week, the research team released more details about the project in an ENDO 2020 abstract to be published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.


Turkey set to become a major player on drone market

2020-04-06
Turkey set to become a major player on drone market
The success of Turkey’s indigenously produced Anka-S drone, and the development of the Anka-2 model, could position Turkey as a major player on the drone market, said an analyst writing inThe National Interest.

Turkey began operating and experimenting with drones in the 1990s, starting its own development program. “Anka” was the name under which a line of domestic medium-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) was developed by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). Turkey also bought IAI Herons from Israel and started using them in 2010, said analyst Charlie Gao on Saturday.



Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Next

Back to the list