Skip to comments.UAS pilot gap becomes top priority for USAF
Posted on 09/19/2008 7:26:42 PM PDT by Yo-Yo
Addressing a critical shortage of pilots to operate unmanned air systems has moved to the top of the modernisation priorities for the US Air Force's newly installed leadership.
General Norton Schwartz, appointed chief of staff in June, has unveiled a two-part plan to escalate the number of UAS operators from 300 to 1,100 in five years.
First, 100 pilots every year in undergraduate pilot training will be assigned to UAS operations. Second, the USAF will launch a distinct pipeline for UAS operators on a trial basis that will recruit from the ranks of active pilots and perhaps even retirees.
"The air force culture must promote a strong and healthy UAS community - not a leper colony or an agency of expedience, and these initiatives are just a first step toward that end," said Schwartz, speaking to the Air Force Association's Air & Space 2008 convention on 16 September.
Only five months ago, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates compared his efforts to obtain the military's support for UAS operations to "pulling teeth". The USAF's top two leaders were fired two months later over lapses in nuclear safeguards.
But addressing UAS pilots shortages and overall intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) needs in Afghanistan and Iraq has already become a top priority for Schwartz. It was the only weapons modernisation initiative he launched during the high-profile AFA convention.
"We will do everything we can to ensure our UAS units are properly organised, trained and equipped for today's fight, and prepared for future challenges," says Schwartz, a former special operations airlift pilot.
The USAF has also unveiled the Project Liberty plan to buy 37 Hawker Beechcraft RC-12 King Airs, which are aimed at augmenting the UAS fleet with manned ISR platforms. Schwartz has also previously disclosed that a sophisticated new sensor is under development called the "wide area airborne surveillance" (WAAS) system.
More traditional ISR platforms, such as the Northrop Grumman E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) may also benefit.
Next year, Northrop will start flight testing a 400mm (16in) telescope generating 1.4Gb of imagery data across seven spectral bands aboard the E-8C, says Dale Burton, vice-president of ISR and battle management and command and control.
Called the Senior Year electro optical reconnaissance system (SYERS), currently flown aboard the U-2, the sensor will allow the E-8C to aim a camera at one target while it continues to scan its radar at other targets.
Northrop's ultimate goal is to transition the 7m (24ft)-wide area sensor for the multi-platform radar technology insertion programme (MP-RTIP) on to the E-8C, replacing the existing APY-7. The company is already scouting for an available Boeing 707 to serve as a testbed aircraft.
I went through AF pilot training in ‘77-’78. If someone had told me that after all that.....I’d be flying a remotely-controlled vehicle like some sort of freakin’ video game (not that we had them back then...)...I’d have been livid.
Now with that said, don’t misunderstand; I clearly see the battlefield value of UAV’s. They’re incredible weapons platforms. I’m addressing the human element.
If you haven’t gone through the grind of pilot training, you can’t fully understand.
Offer cash bonuses for trainees, conditional that they complete the program. Recruit from college campuses offering degrees relevent to the job requirements.
Does one really need full blown pilot training to “pilot” a UAS? I’d guess not. Considering how much it costs to train a pilot, this seems like a real waste.
The USAF continues to insist that UAV operators be rated officers. Why not open up UAV operator to non-rated officers and senior NCOs?
The US Army has a Warrant Officer program for helicopter pilots. Why can’t the Air Force revive their long dead Warrant Officer program for UAV pilots?
These 100 new graduates will spend their first tour as UAV pilots, which is an average of four years. At the end of that tour they will have to repeat basic flight just to get requalified.
Why must AF UAV pilots be rated pilots?
The Army has many Warrant Officer helicopter & fixed wing pilots.
The Army has enlisted and NCO UAV pilots.
There were many Sgt pilots in WWII.
I know someone who’s daughter is headed for pilot training soon and she will not be happy if she is flying a box in a room somewhere.
Someone who is good at MS Flight Simulator and a combat aircraft videogame could be easily trained to pilot UAV’s.
There were a lot of disappointed pilots who ended up as RIO’s. It would help if you had a pipeline for those people seperate from manned aircraft.
I flew drones in VN...but never was a pilot until I left the service. There are still people out there who would love to serve where they could fly UAVs.
Why can’t enlisted personnel fly these? There have been enlisted and “flying sergeants/petty officers” since the beginning of military and naval aviation. Or perhaps start a warrant officer program in the USAF like the Army has for rotary aircraft.
I say yes, because the UAV will sometimes be flying in "traffic" where the pilot will have to worry about other planes around like when they are in a landing pattern. They won't need to be fully trained fighter pilots though. And I see no reason why every pilot has to be an officer.
>>>a critical shortage of pilots to operate unmanned air systems
Perhaps the air force should transfer the UAV program to the army. I believe that both the army and marines use enlisted personnel as UAV pilots and have dedicated training programs.
Nonrated officers would have more motivation to fly a combat UAV than the MWS pilots the Air Force currently uses. If implemented, the program would also allow the retention of an experienced cadre within the UAV community to work future planning issues and/or serve in leadership positions such as squadron commander. Currently, at the end of a Predator pilots three-year tour, he or she quickly resumes flying a manned MWS. Other UAV communities, such as the RQ-4A Global Hawk and the X-45 UCAV, could capitalize on the experience that pilots will acquire in the Predator program. Furthermore, having the opportunity to move to other UAV programs would enhance career progression and increase command opportunities for Predator pilots.
I just sent an e-mail to my brother-in-law, a Naval aviator, that is retiring this year.
"You get to fight a war and blow up bad guys with Hellfire missiles from the comfort of an air-conditioned computer station in Colorado."
After three tours in Iraq, this is one tour the wife be happy about.
Exactly why they don’t need Pilots. All those strenuous physical and vision requirements for them can get sh#t canned. They need people who are temperamentally suited to the demands of the UAS’s guys who LIKE the idea of the worlds greatest video game....
“Perhaps the air force should transfer the UAV program to the army. I believe that both the army and marines use enlisted personnel as UAV pilots and have dedicated training programs.”
Good idea, I think that the ground services understand “types” better, they wouldn’t be grabbing graduating Rangers to assign them to cubicle work.
The ground services also are more likely to see that e-5s should be allowed to apply for a job that they desire and have been self training for since they were 10 years old.
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They just need a bunch of 14 year old boys. The kids will do it for hours on end, think cheeseburgers are gourmet food, will do it for a few extra bucks and will figure out more ways to “score more points” than the Air Force can.
I suggested that before....my 17-year old son could have mastered this “game” in six weeks and been a level-12 fighter pilot (his lingo for his newest game). You could have hired my kid for $1500 a month, all the Mountain Dew that he could drink, and pizza service at work. Instead of handing leather jackets and $80k a year to some college jock...we could have done this alot cheaper. I could recruit 50,000 kids in a matter of four weeks. They wouldn’t even mind moving 50 miles northwest of Vegas as their future home....and most would have had harden skills at absolute victory. They wouldn’t even have asked to wear a pilot suit...they would have been happy in casuals and flip-flops.
There are plenty of experienced ‘reserve’ or retired pilots that could be used in this type of operation. Here in Tucson there must be at least 300 pilots with combat time now in civilian life that could do this work with very little training and release the new pilots to get their real life flight experience. This policy is outright STUPID!
I’ve actually flown a privately owned UAV.
Ok, it was a really simple home-made Styrofoam one.
But I had it out a least a mile and was taking picture of peoples back yards!
Oh, yeah, 100% fly-by-wire.
If the USAF created a civilian program, I think its something I would try for.
No way I could get in as a regular pilot though.
I have Flightgear (Linux flight sim) and have fly-by-wire experience.
Fly-by-wire is a bit harder.(At least with what I was using)
Which is why they went to "navigators" for RIOs. The Navy had Naval Flight Officers, but they had no controls in the back of their F-4s or the F-14. The AF started out with pilots in the backseat, but soon figured that they could train dedicated backseaters more quickly and cheaply. They can do the same with drone pilots, whether officer, warrant, or NCO.
Heck they could use contractors. Maybe have the contractors or NCOs "fly" the birds into the target area, and then hand them off to military pilots for the actual strike missions. No need to hand pure recon drones off at all.
In my experience, very few pilots were jocks, especially in college. Some in high school. Even if they were jocks, they sure as heck weren't dumb ones. Many have technical degrees.
Still I agree, they are wasted on drones. Oh you'd want a few, the officers commanding the units should be flying the birds too. Somewhat like a guy I work with. He was a helicopter pilot, an officer even though most of the pilots in the units were warrant officers. The Air Force does much the same with AWACS back end crews, enlisted and some junior officers doing pretty the same jobs, but then going on to "higher functions". (That keeps changing though, not sure what the current practice is)
Folks, you have no idea how badly this is crushing morale. First off; YOU DON’T NEED A FULLY TRAINED USAF PILOT TO FLY THESE THINGS! Sorry for the caps, but this is near and dear to my heart. We are losing really good pilots to 7 day options. USAF says; “take the predator or quit, you have seven days to decide”, Pilot’s response; “I’ll take my chances with Jet Blue”. Happens every week.
Our applicants for the USAF pilot program (ROTC or US Air Force Academy) are leaving in bunches for the US Naval Academy (I’ve got three friends with kids going to Naval Academy instead of USAFA for this very reason) and its not looking good. This is not optimum on any level. Predators and Reapers will not help us in the Taiwan straits or Iran or N. Korea. We need to stop fighting the last war (Iraq/Afghanistan) and start looking ahead. These can be flown by non-pilots with proper training, such as a UAS track where they get civilian training up to the Commercial Pilot level and then on to the UAS track. This is killing my beloved USAF.
Oh and one other thing. This jackass new USAF Chief of Staff is making our folks wear blues on Monday. Not a big deal you say. Here’s the big deal. We’re fighting 2 wars, most units are severely undermanned that are not front line units. And this dope’s first edict is to wear a admin uniform every week? This guy is the typical REMF who’s got no idea what his troops concerns are. I am appalled with all we have going on that his first impact on my USAF is to worry about blues vs work uniforms.
He’s an idiot, and after starting off under McPeak’s reign at the beginning of my career I can say I see similarities. This guy may be worse, much worse, which is saying something.