We may be nearing the death of the real pilot

Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 03:51 PM.

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.

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.

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