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Nobody Wants to Fly Air Force Drones Because It's a Dead End Job

Illustration for article titled Nobody Wants to Fly Air Force Drones Because Its a Dead End Job

We've been hearing for years now unmanned aerial vehicles (a.k.a. drones) are the war machines of tomorrow, the weapons of a new age, the way of the future. There's only one problem: no one wants to fly the dang things.

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Air Force Col. Bradley Hoagland just published a paper outlining the challenge of finding enough pilots for the increasing number of drone missions around the world. Long story short, it's really tough. Last year, the Air Force sought 150 pilots to fly its fleet of Predator, Reaper and Global Hawk drones but "was not able to meet its RPA (remotely piloted aircraft) training requirements since there were not enough volunteers," the study says. Meanwhile, the number of drone missions is growing "at a faster pace than the AF (Air Force) can train personnel to operate these systems." The rate of attrition for drone pilots is also three times higher than that of regular pilots.

That's a lot of strikes against the Air Force's drone program. What's with all the resistance? Well, put simply, being a drone pilot is a dead end job. Hoagland found that drone pilots are 13 percent less likely to make the rank of major than their peers are. It's sort of Catch 22, really. Because of the shortage of pilots, those flying the drone fleet have more missions and, thus, less time to pursue the training and education needed to rise up the ranks. It doesn't help that the Pentagon axed the one honor created specifically for drone pilots just two months after introducing it.

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It's unclear what the Air Force is doing to fill the shortage. Technology might just solve the problem for them. Because let's be honest: one terrifying day, these things are going to fly themselves. [Defense News]

Image via Getty

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DISCUSSION

As long as the US AF insists that only commissioned officers are competent to drive airplanes - and by their warped logic, drones are airplanes. They will have these problems. Prior to the existence of the AF, the US had enlisted pilots. And the other services fought the AF over their insistence that every airplane driver had to be an officer. The Army solved it by having warrant officers drive their airplanes and helicopters. For those that don't know, warrant officers do not have the commission that commissioned officers do. But they also don't have to put up with a lot of the silly rules that those commissioned officers have such as Must have a college degree, must have good eyesight (no glasses) and some others.

The AF is deathly afraid that if they were to open the job of drone operator up to those obviously unqualified low life enlisted poags it will somehow sully the pristine reputation of all of its commissioned airplane drivers. - Please note that one of the greatest US pilots ever was originally enlisted in the Army as a private, became an Army enlisted pilot, promoted to 'flight officer'. a WWII equivalent of Warrant officer. And later, after many of his exploits, given a commission as an officer. If the AF had been in existence, he would never have been given the opportunity to show what he could - because he was an uneducated (no college) enlisted 'poag'. Chuck Yeager shows that enlisted 'airplane drivers.' Can do as well or better than those college flyboys.