Warplanes: Predator's "Magic Light"


June 13, 2006: The U.S. Air Force has a squadron of twenty (or so) Predator UAVs in Iraq, and this is one of the hardest working aircraft units there. Last month, each Predator averaged about 110 hours in the air. Each aircraft flew 6-7 sorties during the month, each one lasting 17-18 hours on average. The dust, sand and heat are rough on the Predators, keeping the maintenance crews working round the clock. That's when the Predators operated as well, often taking turns providing 24/7 coverage for a stretch of road, or a particular neighborhood. Another unique aspect of the Predator squadron was that about a third of it's personnel were phoning it in from back in the United States. The people who operate the Predators do so from an air base within the United States, and control the UAVs via a satellite link. The pilot is a regular air force pilot, doing several years as a Predator jockey. A sergeant serves as the sensor operator, watching what the camera sees. This video is often shared with ground troops equipped to receive it. Predators now have a special search light the puts out a beam of light that cannot be seen except using night vision equipment. Thus the Predator can literally spotlight someone on the ground, without the subject knowing it. Ground troops can then go after the individual and arrest him. Hundreds of suspects have been caught this way, adding to Iraqi folklore about American "magic."


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