Skip to comments.Drone crashes mount at civilian airports
Posted on 11/30/2012 11:02:45 PM PST by Seizethecarp
The U.S. Air Force drone, on a classified spy mission over the Indian Ocean, was destined for disaster from the start.
An inexperienced military contractor in shorts and a T-shirt, flying by remote control from a trailer at Seychelles International Airport, committed blunder after blunder in six minutes on April 4.
He sent the unarmed MQ-9 Reaper drone off without permission from the control tower. A minute later, he yanked the wrong lever at his console, killing the engine without realizing why.
As he tried to make an emergency landing, he forgot to put down the wheels. The $8.9 million aircraft belly-flopped on the runway, bounced and plunged into the tropical waters at the airports edge, according to a previously undisclosed Air Force accident investigation report.
The drone crashed at a civilian airport that serves a half-million passengers a year, most of them sun-seeking tourists. No one was hurt, but it was the second Reaper accident in five months under eerily similar circumstances.
I will be blunt here. I said, I cant believe this is happening again, an Air Force official at the scene told investigators afterward. He added: You go, How stupid are you?
The April wreck was the latest in a rash of U.S. military drone crashes at overseas civilian airports in the past two years. The accidents reinforce concerns about the risks of flying the robot aircraft outside war zones, including in the United States.
(Excerpt) Read more at washingtonpost.com ...
It was probably ‘classified’ afterwards in an attempt to cover it up. This is an 0bama tactic and was implemented in the aftermath of Benghazi. Has anyone interviewed those 30 something survivors yet? Are they dead or ‘sworn to secrecy’ or what? Huh, 0bamatollah?..
Sounds like the average RC controlled plane hobbyist would be at least as good a drone pilot. And why airports at all, why not some deserted road?
Drone pilots don’t need to be actual pilots.
For a long time, unlike the other services, the Air Force tried to enforce the insane rule that only flight ready pilots could sit at the desk and fly a drone, if you had a twisted ankle, then you were pulled, it was insane and expensive, it doesn’t take an officer to sit at a computer and fly drones.
I know a bunch of pilots. Civilian airline, AF fighter, Navy attack, presidential helo, build your own, Nam huey, glider for hire, acrobat, test, and so on. They are all are strange. They’re obsessive, but in a very controlled way — obsessively obsessive. I guess it comes from all the detailed procedures. Check this, check that, etc. You can see the procedures scrolling past their eyes. Another thing strange about them is you generally can’t rattle them. The only crazy one was the Navy attack pilot — he drank like an idiot on steroids — a fifth on a quiet night, but he died of old age.
Point is, when you have to fly a big tank of gas over people’s heads, you should have a pilot.
‘I seem to recall that from the beginning, drone pilots were required to be real pilots...but then that requirement was dropped to save training costs.’
Actually, being a “real pilot” doesn’t help that much in flying a model aircraft. (which is essentially what these things are)
Until a few of them crash....
Drone crash at SEZ. Snooze. Wake me up when one crashes at BOS.
The seat of the pants factor is obviously missing in the remote control mode. But also the computer watching over the controls should require certain common sense things like don’t kill the engine if you’re climbing, and if you’re headed for a belly flop put the wheels down in time, with manual exceptions having to hit an ESCAPE button or something similar to override.
Well, a supposedly classified mission. Somehow you wouldn’t want a flight of that kind to get bungled so badly it might not even come back.
The article seems to be focused on the Air Force, not the Army and and Navy.
The U.S. Army has used a combination of NCOs and Warrant Officers to operate its larger UAVs, and that program has been a success. But senior U.S. Air Force commanders have publicly rejected growing calls from air force commanders that NCOs be used as UAV operators. Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force struggles to train enough UAV operators a year, while the U.S. Army has no problem finding and training many more than the air force needs. Most of the army operators use the small (two kg/4.5 pound) Raven UAV, which provides platoons, companies and vehicle convoys with aerial reconnaissance.
Interestingly, UAV operators each spend about 1,200 hours a year controlling UAVs in the air, versus 450 hours for army helicopter pilots and even less for air force pilots in the combat zone. Most army UAV operators are enlisted troops, while all air force ones are officers. The Raven training only lasts 80 hours, but this tiny UAV was designed for ease of use. It takes about five times longer to train operators for larger UAVs like Shadow, Predator and Reaper. The air force points out that the largest UAVs, like the Global Hawk, can cross oceans, and requires a high degree of training and skill. But it’s much more dangerous to fly a Raven within rifle range of enemy troops, and keep the little bird alive long enough to get the video feed needed to win the battle. Many of these army Raven operators are very, very good, mainly because they have hundreds of hours experience operating their UAVs while under fire. Few air force UAV drivers can claim this kind of experience.
There are other problems. The U.S. Department of Defense has been putting pressure on the air force to automate their UAV operations. The air force initially responded with complaints that they were overloaded. But then it became widely known that, while army UAVs have software that enables automatic take-off and landing, similar air force UAVs do not, and this has led to higher UAV losses for the air force. At the same time, the navy, and the British, are developing flight control software that allows pilots to control two or more UAVs while flying their own aircraft. In effect, these pilots would fly into combat with two or more UAVs under their control. The U.S. Air Force is under a lot of pressure to make this happen, so one team of UAV operators can control two or more aircraft.
It’s not that the air force can’t make this happen, it’s just that there’s a lot of resistance in the air force to replacing pilots with a lot of UAVs. Actually, there’s not much at stake in this dispute, other than possibly settling the decades old controversy over whether all pilots must be officers. The other services save a lot of money by using NCOs as UAV controllers. Sergeants and Petty Officers are paid less, and they don’t get flight pay. No one has been able to demonstrate any better performance on the part of the air force pilots who operate UAVs. In the long run, the enlisted UAV “pilots” will probably be superior, because they are making a career of this sort of thing.
The above post (13) is fron a strategypage article, not from me.
Of course some 13 yr old hacker across the street couldn’t have gotten into the flight program......?...
BTW..I just got a copy of "The Bourne Legacy" and there is a fantastic sequence involving drones, NRO sat-tracked implants, High powered sniper rifles and of all things..wolves. I think you would like it.
Agree.... and Pilots are more likely to know the rules of the airport, air space rules, and how to respond to the variables if weather, terrain, wind speed .....
At over $8 mill a pop, they are not saving much. $8 mil will pay for the difference between the cost of using pilots vs non pilots real quick.
Would be interesting to know the details. Race, gender, gender preference, education level ........ of the drone operator who crashed it.
The contractors they hire are pilots. The problem is that the Predator flight control system sucks. A couple of my friends flew predators and they say the flight control system feels like a throwback to MS Flightsim 95.
Checkleest? I don’need no steekin’ checkleest!
Sounds like Obi has his candidate for second term FAA administrator.
Bingo. This sounds like the real-life version of an episode of "Big Bang Theory" where Wolowitz takes the Mars Rover on an unauthorized excursion to impress his date and ends up driving it into a ditch.
At one time the USAAF had NCO pilots. IIRC at some time between the world wars, the decision was made to make them all warrant or commisioned officers to place them in a higher Geneva convention code category given the likelihood of being shot down behind enemy lines.
DO they, like, drug test the ummmmm...like, pilots, mannnn?
Maybe not, but at least a 'real pilot' knows a stall, to check the landing gear, etc. because they've had a lot more riding on it than crashing a model.
Make dumb mistakes as a real pilot and they might be your last mistakes, ever.
Are there statistics comparing the number of crashes with a pilot at the controls as opposed to when a non-pilot is doing the flying? If there are and they show an overwhelming majority of the crashes happen with non-pilots at the controls, I wonder if the difference could be attributed to the lack of flight-science training for the non-pilots, not to mention the lack of understanding of what is really happening with a machine when it is in the air. Flying is a science and it occurs to me that the mentality that you describe is a scientific mind at work.
My impression is that most NCO drone pilots have outstanding control and gamesmanship skills, but if I am coordinating sorties for close air support or even holding patterns with larger aircraft in the vicinity, which might not be able to observe them by VFR, I’d prefer a seasoned pilot at their controls.
They are still "investigating" and cannot comment.
The *REAL* problem here is that nobody cares because a crashed drone does not come out of THEIR paycheck, unlike an R/C owner or private pilot.
At least actual civil service folks would be trained...
A real pilot knows what GUMP means, and NEVER initiates an approach to land without it. Gamers, nope.
This sounds a little like BS to me. Reapers have fixed landing gear like all predators. You can’t forget to put the gear down ‘cause you can’t raise them in the first place. Of course it could be just the standard stupid journalist ignorance of their subjects.
Knowing how the military operates, it probably is a throwback to MS Flightsim 95, if not SubLOGIC FS-II for the Commodore 64.
12 year old gamers could do better than some contractor “Pile It’s” Precedent Erkel Mugabe has forced the military to hire....
Now that’s just plain funny!
My son, a rocket scientist, has met several astronauts. Theyre obsessive, but in a very controlled way obsessively obsessive....CUBED. They make most pilots look like reckless children.
The MQ-9 that was crashed in the article had retractable landing gear, unlike the MQ-1 that you are probably thinking of.
“The MQ-9 is the first hunter-killer UAV designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance.
“The MQ-9 is a larger, heavier, and more capable aircraft than the earlier MQ-1 Predator; it can be controlled by the same ground systems used to control MQ-1s. The Reaper has a 950-shaft-horsepower (712 kW) turboprop engine, far more powerful than the Predator’s 115 hp (86 kW) piston engine. The power increase allows the Reaper to carry 15 times more ordnance payload and cruise at almost three times the speed of the MQ-1. Although the MQ-9 can fly pre-programmed routes autonomously, the aircraft is monitored or controlled by aircrew in the Ground Control Station (GCS) and weapons employment is commanded by the flight crew.”
Well, regarding union implemented breaks and restrictions at least.
"At least as good??"
More like 100x better. These drones are just RC planes. They are probably taking kids who are "proficient" at MS Flight Simulator and making the fly the drones.
It seems to me that Reaper training requires the equivalent of an advanced instrument rating where the pilot can “fly blind” relying only on instruments. Try that with an RC model aircraft or an Army Raven! Ravens appear to be flown essentially VFR, not IFR.
I am not a pilot, but I did successfully complete the extensive pre-enlistment paper test battery for Marine Corps Aviation OCS before washing out for a heart condition. The test battery is essentially a glorified IQ test with an aeronautical aptitude overlay. The US military selects officers from above normal on the bell curve and pilots are chosen from test subjects way off in the right tail of the IQ bell-curve much further than most officers.
No training can significantly increase IQ and IQ is what is needed to stay alive or keep a drone in the air under extreme IFR conditions in all weather and at all altitudes near other aircraft and over civilian areas.
Enlisted men and women who can score that high on IQ (high enough to qualify for IFR heavy drone training) should be tracked into OCS to begin with to achieve their full potential, IMO.
The union for most civil service is more of a work-conditions and representation when someone is being disciplined type deal. Once a civil servant reaches GS-11, there is no direct union "support" and the rules for working are really pretty strict. Folks where I work are allowed a total of 30 minutes "breaks" during the day and they fall in several 5 - 10 minute sessions that allow them time to hit the can between teaching sessions (we train new military for their career fields).
I think he is a total incompetent whose only talent is screwing things up, which makes him perfect for his first goal of "overwhelming the system," but once he has to actually start making something work things won't turn out very well for him. Mussolini's end comes to mind.
Does anyone know if the drone pilot yelled all achbar,
Complete incompetent hires Complete incompetent,par.
I was steered into OCS at a time when the IQ was higher for enlisted Special Forces than it was for officers, they have since lowered it for SF, not increased it for officers, the military is full of enlisted IQs that meet officer standards.
It isn’t as though it is a high IQ job, they merely require a little above average.
The officer nonsense doesn’t hold up, that is why the other branches went with common sense and effectiveness. Drone flying is a sitting at a computer screen specialty, and a career line, it is a skill set, and a personality set, of it’s own.
Here are some highlights from a 2008 article. The Air Force is doing it’s usual effete, glamour boy posturing, glamour that is fading as they start realizing that piloted planes are becoming a thing of the past, besides, women do the job now.
“”The Air Force is desperate for UAV pilots, yet it stands alone among the services in its policy that only officers are allowed to fly large unmanned aerial vehicles.””
“”Critics, however, say that by restricting the UAV pilot career field to officers, the Air Force has unnecessarily limited its UAV growth potential and point to the Army, in which enlisted soldiers fly UAVs in the war zones, track insurgents and fire on targets.
Those critics include some in Congress. The more congressional funding that goes to purchasing UAVs and training operators, the more lawmakers and their staffs are studying UAV operations.
One congressional staff member sitting in a defense authorization committee that has studied both Army and Air Force UAV pilot programs said questions arise about why the Air Force cant have enlisted pilots.
Its difficult for us to come right out and say, Air Force: You shall not use officers as pilots; you shall use sergeants, he said, asking not to be named. But its perfectly obvious to everybody except senior levels of the Air Force that thats what they need to do.
Some critics point to enlisted UAV pilots as a potential cost-saving measure. Rated pilots, proficient after years of expensive training and flying hours, are cycled into UAV slots for two to three years at a minimum. When pilots return to manned aircraft, requalification training comes with a big price tag. It costs roughly $700,000, for example, to send F-15 pilots through a requalification course, according to a Rand Corp. report published in November.
Air Force leaders argue that comparisons between its programs and the Armys are misleading because enlisted soldiers fly smaller UAVs that dont carry the same weapons load as Air Force Reapers and Predators.
But that argument has lost weight as enlisted soldiers are set to fly the Sky Warrior a UAV that is a foot longer and can carry 325 pounds more than the MQ-1 Predator in Iraq this summer.
Four Sky Warriors armed with four Hellfire missiles will be deployed this summer and another four will be shipped a year later, said Maj. Jimmie Cummings, an Army spokesman.
The Navy also plans to add new maritime UAVs similar in size to the Predator and Sky Warrior, and Navy officials are considering establishing an enlisted job specialty for UAV pilots.
Maj. Hilton Nunez, Army UAV Division team chief, said the debate over whether a UAV pilot should have a commission is moot as long as that pilot receives the right training.””
I believe that pilot IQ standard is much higher than base-line officer standard. The military is properly inclined to entrust the most expensive, powerful and catastrophic equipment (in the event of human error) to those proved to be of the highest available raw intelligence on whom they lavish the most expensive training.
Should drone piloting increasingly involving huge, jet-powered airframes flying in all weather over populated area be left to less then the most intelligent available drone drivers? BTW, the Israelis have a drone the size of a 737, IIRC.