Pilots Yanked Out of Planes for Drone Duty

How bad do they need drones in Iraq and Afghanistan? So bad, the Air Force is yanking pilots out of old-school planes, and sticking them on drone duty, instead.

For the past several years, there’s been a “300% annual increase” in battlefield commanders’ request in video from robot aircraft. Drone-makers – and military paper-pushers – are struggling to keep up with the demand. Defense Secretary Gates has ordered that the Air Force send all available Predator unmanned aerial vehicles into action. Air Force officials whined about the non-stop 13-hour days their pilots were clocking (in Nevada, not Iraq). But ultimately, the number of Predator flights was doubled.

But now, the UAVs are in such high demand, “the Air Force is being forced to pull manned-aircraft pilots from deployments around the world and bring them to Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, to pilot the drones,” Air Combat Command’s top general tells Inside the Air Force.

“I’ve had to not only stop the rotation and reassignment of people that are in the Predator and the Reaper [Predator’s big bro] systems, I’ve had to take them out of other weapon systems and bring them back into” drone systems, said ACC commander Gen. John Corley…

Some of these pilots already have re-qualified on their previous aircraft such as F-16s and had “returned to other operational assignments such as Korea, and we’ve had to reach back into the system and say, ‘you’re going back into the Predator,’” said Corley…

The Air Force has a total Predator fleet of 108 aircraft. Operators currently fly 18 combat air patrols over Iraq and Afghanistan, but that number will increase to 21 by October…

The Air Force will have to examine every pilot who is inside the current UAV program to build a cadre of pilots who will form the drone pilot career field…

He then claimed that intelligence provided by Global Hawk and Predator drones since 2001 is up by 3,000 percent and 1,300 percent, respectively, highlighting the demand for this type of aircraft.

By Noah Shachtman
March 31, 2008, 6:06:00 PM

Source: Wired

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