Chuck Spinney: On Drone Pilots, Mental and Moral

Drones & UAVs
Chuck Spinney
Chuck Spinney

“The Moral is to the Material as Three to One” …or as the Taliban said about the US exit strategy, “You may have the clock, but we have the time.”

Drone pilot burnout triggers call for recruiting overhaul


The coming swarm
As the Air Force’s drone program grows, so does the importance of pilot selection. What started in 2004 as five drone combat patrols — four aircraft each — will to swell to 65 patrols by 2014. By 2010, Predators had logged more than a million combat hours, more than any other military bird. And today’s population of 1,300 combat drone pilots will be joined by 500 more in the next few years.

And as autonomous systems evolve, the capabilities of unmanned craft will, too. The Air Force will shift to a system with multiple vehicles flown in tandem, answering to a single pilot. These “swarm” handlers will have more complex tasks heaped on them earlier in their career.

“In terms of who we need to have, I think we’re on a learning curve there,” Anthony Tvaryanas, a doctor of aerospace medicine and technical advisor with the 711th Human Systems Integration Directorate at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, told NBC News.

“If [a pilot is] operating a swarm, what are you looking for in that person? I don’t think anyone’s looking into those concepts,” Tvaryanas said.

“As we get from a pilot in an airplane to a pilot outside the airplane to a pilot controlling 100 airplanes, I think we’re approaching the limits of what [prior experience and studies] can inform us. There’s a need to look back at training,” he added.

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