Drone pilots and more background on drones

Article in the Economist discusses the pressures on drone pilots – Drone pilots:  Dilbert at war. Article in WSJ gives more background on the range of drones in operation today. First up, the Economist article.

There are serious pressures from being in a war zone for an 8 or 10 hour shift then going home to have dinner with your family in your own home/apartment. You can’t get a brew at the on-base club and decompress with the other crews who also have nothing else to do except hang out with you. Classification levels and operational security requirements mean you can’t discuss anything outside a secure area.

I’ve long thought there must be odd stresses from being in combat action for the day, going home to your own bed for a good night’s sleep, then returning to a shooting war zone for your 7 a.m. shift.

Article says a prof has researched the issue and found same level of mental health issues with drone pilots as with pilots deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Two dimensions of the stress. Drone pilots spend lots of time, like maybe weeks, getting to know their target villages. Those are real people living their daily lives down there. I imagine you recognize the patterns, like people walking to the market to open their shops.  Unlike fighter jocks, who leave at full military throttle after releasing bombs, the platform sensors will show the drone pilots the impact and scurrying around after a strike. Only today can you start a serious bomb damage assessment within a minute of weapons release.

Morale is low. Staffing is an issue. The military wants 1,650 drone pilots by ’17. Currently they are at 85% staffing level.

Training is a bargain. Only takes $65K to train a drone pilot while it costs $557K to train pilots for manned aircraft.

Speaking of drones, the range of what’s on the market

The Wall Street Journal has an article on the possible tension between makers of big drones and small drones:  Drone Dogfight: Big Defense Firms vs. Techies. I don’t know if the big defense contractors are really fighting the small guys, as the manufacturers of small drones are claiming. But the article has good discussion of the different industries within the drone world.

One key quote on disruption:

Some observers say the drone industry is ripe to become a classic story of tech disruption, in which lower-cost, less-powerful devices overtake the market from the more expensive and advanced incumbents. They liken the current moment in drones to the shift from big, industrial computers to PCs in the 1980s.

There’s a great graphic here contrasting 4 different drones with widely varying characteristics.

A few pieces of info:

  • Name – price tag – weight – speed – operating altitude – size
  • Global Hawk – $93,000,000 – 32,250# – 357 mph – 60,000’ – 48’ x 131’
  • ScanEagle      – $100,000 – 49# – 69 mph – 19,500’ – 6’ x 10’
  • Lancaster Hawkeye  – $15,000 – 3# – 25 mph – 400’ – 4’ x 4’
  • Phantom Vision 2+  – $1,300 – 3# – 25 mph – <400’ – 1’ x 1’

Like I said, a huge range.

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