Attrition: Predators Dying From Data Starvation

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November 28, 2007: In the last year, six U.S. Predator UAVs crashed or suffered major damage, all due to engine problems. So far, the U.S. Air Force has lost about a third of the Predators it has received. One of the common factors in all these incidents is poor error reporting. For a four million dollar aircraft, the Predator does not provide the operator (at a base back in the U.S.) with as much data as the pilot in a four million dollar commercial aircraft (about the same size as the Predator.) For example, a Piper Warrior has a wingspan of 35 feet, is 24 feet long and seats four. It weighs a ton, like the Predator (which has a 49 foot wingspan, is 27 feet long and seats none.) A Piper Warrior pilot not only gets instant alerts on the instrument panel when something is wrong, but can also feel the engine, or aircraft, behaving strangely. Predator operators are finding that the flight control software on Predator does not transmit "instrument panel" alerts immediately, and when that data is sent to the operator, it is often too late. Because the Predator has no pilot on board, who can literally feel, or see, some flight problems, the UAV operator needs more data coming back via the satellite link. The air force is learning this the hard way, and is scrambling to give the operators more awareness of what's going on up there.

 


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