Warplanes: August 22, 2002


Predator is a handful. The drone aircraft (or UAV, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is difficult to fly. Part of this is because the pilot does not get much feedback. Unlike flight simulators, or real aircraft, where the pilot can see things in three dimensions, Predator provides only two dimensions and some instrument readouts. The designers of the Predator control system did not take advantage of commercial flight simulator technology to provide the overworked pilot on the ground with some easier to use feedback. On top of the bad feedback, the predator design did not result in a particularly graceful aircraft. Not only are landings difficult (as any user of commercial flight simulators will tell you), but takes off are tricky, and the Predator is unstable in flight. The next generation is supposed to deal with most of these problems. But for the moment, pilots (usually fighter pilots) assigned to Predator duty dont look forward to it. Each Predator system consists of four aircraft, ground control equipment and 63 people. The Predator can stay in the air for up to 40 hours and the Predator specializes in 24 hour operations. It takes one pilot and two sensor operators to operate a Predator, and these crews have to work in shifts to keep the system going. Each shift lasts 4-6 hours. The bomber crews do not like Predator, for the drone is not only the first on the scene to check if a bombing mission succeeded, but it's ability to hang around means it gets results when satellite or manned recon aircraft fail. People on the ground will often successfully do things to fool satellites or manned recon aircraft. You have a much harder time fooling predator. Predator also gets shot at a lot. With a 49 foot wingspan, it is not an insignificant spec in the sky. While the pilots often flinch when they see their Predator getting shot at, there's not a lot they do with an aircraft with a top speed of about 100 kilometers miles an hour.


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