Feeds

Predator kill-machine pilots suffering 'chronic burnout'

Vegas-based droid jockeys asleep at the stick

Build a business case: developing custom apps

A US military report says pilots operating the well-known Predator drone aircraft suffer far higher levels of mental stress than flyboys who are physically present aboard their planes.

Staff Sergeant Lance Nettrouer puts foot to ass for his country

Too much time staring at a screen, controller

in hand, can impair domestic relationships.

According to the report's authors, a group of US officers, "crewmembers in a MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft system (UAS) squadron had significantly increased fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and burnout relative to traditional aircrew". The study allowed for the present very high level of demand for Predator flights by comparing the drone operators against similarly hard-worked aircrews aboard AWACS airborne radar planes.

The revelation that safe, remote drone operations seem to tire pilots and sensor-operators out faster than being airborne above warzones comes in the snappily-titled A Resurvey of Shift Work-Related Fatigue in MQ-1 Predator Unmanned Aircraft System Crewmembers (pdf), flagged up at Flight International's DEW Line blog.

The authors say changes to shift patterns worked by the drone jockeys haven't really helped: their work is just extra tiring and stressful compared to flying airborne missions.

According to the report, survey results "indicated a pervasive problem with chronic fatigue... Nearly 50 per cent of surveyed crewmembers met the diagnostic threshold for levels of daily sleepiness which can be expected to adversely impact job performance and safety".

Worrying stuff, when speaking of people handling deadly aerial kill machines packing smart bombs and laser-guided Hellfire missiles. It seemed that the weary remote-control warriors even suffered "impaired domestic relationships".

Of course, there could be other factors in play here. Predator pilots in the US air force have typically been reassigned from normal airborne flight duties, and given the ordinary military flyboy mindset* this probably isn't seen as a step up. The droneboys may be suffering from sleepiness on the job, burnout, failed relationships, etc, because their macho self-image has been destroyed. Conceivably, the real fighter pilots taunt them, snap towels in the locker room, etc.

Alternatively, some might point out the location from which the Predator is handled during missions: Nellis Air Force Base. Which is right next to Las Vegas, a place long known for disrupted sleep patterns, burnout, and impaired domestic relationships. ®

*Perhaps most succinctly expressed by the old saying: "If you don't know who the greatest fighter pilot in the world is ... it isn't you".

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
The police are WRONG: Watching YouTube videos is NOT illegal
And our man Corfield is pretty bloody cross about it
China hopes home-grown OS will oust Microsoft
Doesn't much like Apple or Google, either
Super Cali signs a kill-switch, campaigners say it's atrocious
Remote-death button bad news for crooks, protesters – and great news for hackers?
UK government accused of hiding TRUTH about Universal Credit fiasco
'Reset rating keeps secrets on one-dole-to-rule-them-all plan', say MPs
Fast And Furious 6 cammer thrown in slammer for nearly three years
Man jailed for dodgy cinema recording of Hollywood movie
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Don't even THINK about copyright violation, says Indian state
Pre-emptive arrest for pirates in Karnataka
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Scale data protection with your virtual environment
To scale at the rate of virtualization growth, data protection solutions need to adopt new capabilities and simplify current features.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?