Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Drone pilots in the NYT

You should read this article in the New York Times: A Day Job Waiting for a Kill Shot a World Away.

The story spends most of its word-count focusing on the soldiers who operate the remotely-piloted aircraft:

By 2015, the Pentagon projects that the Air Force will need more than 2,000 drone pilots for combat air patrols operating 24 hours a day worldwide. The Air Force is already training more drone pilots — 350 last year — than fighter and bomber pilots combined. Until this year, drone pilots went through traditional flight training before learning how to operate Predators, Reapers and unarmed Global Hawks. Now the pilots are on a fast track and spend only 40 hours in a basic Cessna-type plane before starting their drone training.

Interviewing actual drone pilots, the author investigates the "roiling emotions after they fire a missile":

When he was deployed in Iraq, “you land and there’s no more weapons on your F-16, people have an idea of what you were just involved with.” Now he steps out of a dark room of video screens, his adrenaline still surging after squeezing the trigger, and commutes home past fast-food restaurants and convenience stores to help with homework — but always alone with what he has done.

The article is firmly rooted in the present reality of drones deployed in Asian combat areas. I wish the author had spent more time investigating the near future, in which drones are deployed to non-combat areas, and their pilots are surveilling ordinary civilians suspected only of unpopular opinions, as the Christian Science Monitor did last month in their article: Drones over America. Are they spying on you?, noting that the FAA is “streamlining the process for public agencies to safely fly UAS in the nation’s airspace.”

Ugh. Our dystopian future draws ever nearer.

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