Warplanes: October 18, 2002


Getting pilots to fly the U.S. Air Force's UAVs (like the Predator) has been difficult. The main reason is because the air force is using fighter pilots who, while assigned to Predator duty, get no time in a real cockpit and, thus, no flight pay. Worse yet, losing the flying time in a real aircraft hurts the Predator pilots promotion prospects (which are helped enormously by flying real fighter aircraft.) So the aircraft has changed the rules, and pilots will receive flight pay for flying Predators. This will soon reveal another problem; you don't need trained fighter pilots to operate a Predator. In fact, this could be made an enlisted specialty. And it's absurd to give flight pay to Predator operators, as that bonus money is for the additional danger of flying a high performance aircraft. Predator pilots risk nothing. The air force will fight any proposal to use enlisted UAV pilots, but other services and nations are already going in that direction. You train can UAV pilots completely on a simulator (similar to an off-the-shelf PC game) and UAV pilots can maintain their skills the same way. This will eventually become a major squabble in Congress, as money and power are at stake.


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