Havelock News
  • We may be nearing the death of the real pilot

  • The Obama administration has ramped up use of drones.
    • email print
      Comment
  • The Obama administration has ramped up use of drones, or as once handsome, tanned, swaggering fighter pilots who have metastasized into bespectacled, pasty-skinned, stoop-shouldered video game players prefer to call them, "remotely piloted vehicles."
    The pilots dragged kicking and screaming off to operating these RPVs vice flying real airplanes prefer the term RPV so as to self-delusionally not divorce themselves completely from the manly realm of the wild blue yonder.
    The administration likes RPVs because killing people with armed RPVs is cleaner, easier, less risky and politically more acceptable than allowing pilots in actual aircraft to do the job.
    It may be acceptable politically, but it’s unacceptable for most pilots. For these RPV operators, the needle on their cockpit’s "testosterone gauge" barely registers off zero.
    More recently, in typical government mumbo jumbo fashion — the same mumbo jumbo that replaces the word poverty with "social exclusion" and where a bicycle might be called an "OD green, aluminum framed, self-propelled, bipedal, multi-wheeled, transportation device" — the perfectly acceptable term RPV has since been replaced with the new term, "unmanned aerial system" or UAS.
    The pilots the Air Force has been trying to entice to leave behind the manly thrill of flying real airplanes to operating geeky UAS craft from air-conditioned easy chairs don’t like the term UAS any more than they liked the term "drone." Both terms imply a pilot-less or human-out-of-the-loop weapons system (which UASs are likely in the future to become anyway as they increasingly become more computerized) that do not, generally, accurately describe today’s UAS.
    To be fair, pilots are in fact, more or less (through a two dimensional TV screen) at least today in 2012, intimately engaged in UAS employment and the delivery of weapons.
    While they’re an exception to most pilots who are dragged off kicking and screaming to banishment from real flying, some pilots actually choose to switch from real flying to UAS operator duties. In an April 21 Air Force Times column ("Demand grows for {UAS} pilots and sensor operators") a USAF first lieutenant was quoted as saying he switched from being a "real" pilot to a drone operator because he wanted "job security."
    Can anyone imagine Tom Cruise, playing Navy F-14 fighter pilot "Maverick" in the fighter jock movie "Top Gun," getting even a sideward glance from Kelly McGillis by saying, "Hey gorgeous, I switched from fighters for the job security. How’d you like to see my drone’s teeny-weeny camera?"
    He’d be in for some world-class poverty … er … I mean social exclusion.
    Nonetheless, so far the Air Force is sticking with the policy of assigning pilots — as opposed to computer geeks — to UAS operations, even though it’s generally a tough sell. Most pilots love the smell (as they say) of JP5 (jet fuel) in the morning.
    Page 2 of 2 - Watching the sun rise above the flight line as they strap 40,000 pounds of virulent thrust to their backs preparing to do battle with physics and Mother Nature are activities much preferred over lounging in a stale, windowless, electrical-fumed computer room preparing to do battle with Windows 7.
    There’s even debate about RPV pilots wearing flight suits. Unlike real pilots who wear the fire-retardant uniforms to protect themselves from ejection, exposure and fire, there’s no operational reason for RPV crew to wear flight suits unless it’s to protect themselves from their cubicle’s frigid air-conditioning or to safely accommodate their expanding waist lines by permitting them to rapidly and efficiently reposition their flight suit’s Velcro waist tabs.
    The Air Force Times column, though, indicates there really are few pilots who actually choose to fly the UAS instead of the real thing. I guess job security in this era of decreasing defense budgets and military drawdowns is becoming more important than Top Gun. Yet is it security-seeking, four-eyed computer geeks or live fast, die young steely-eyed fighter jocks we want defending (or offending) our skies? I think the latter.
    But the future portends otherwise. The Air Force trained more UAS pilots than real pilots last year. Every service is interested in this unmanned aerial technology and more UASs are coming. Someday they’ll be autonomous too — capable of their own decision-making. Just add fuel and launch. Pilot not required. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s "Terminator" here we come.
    Some day Cherry Point will have drones taking off from its Space Shuttle-sized runways instead of manned aircraft. The sign entering the base rather than reading, "Pardon our noise, it’s the sound of freedom." will read, "Like our whirring? We’re barely purring!" Noise complainers will appreciate that.
    Pilots will begin to look more like Harry Potter than Tom Cruise. RPV pilot call signs instead of "Maverick," "Stones," or "Buff" will run the gamut of "Mini-me," "Mod" (for model), "Faux-eyes" (play on the term "four eyes"), "PC" (pronounced "pick" for politically correct), and "Balsa."
    And real flying — as well as real aviators — will have died.
     Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at fetzerab@ec.rr.com. 
    taboola sponsored listings

      Events Calendar