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US pilots will go to VR drone ops straight from training

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The new head of the US Air Force, General Norton "Norty"* Schwartz, has said that in future some rookie pilots will go straight from training school to remotely flying robot planes.

Flight International, reporting on a speech made by the general at a recent convention, said that the move to send pilots straight from training into drone operations was one of several measures announced to beef up the unmanned-aircraft efforts of the USAF. The service is currently moving to expand its fleet of crewless spy and hunter-killer aircraft operating above Iraq and Afghanistan, which are piloted during missions from control stations in America.

Reportedly, Schwarz said he wanted "a strong and healthy [drone ops] community - not a leper colony". He may have a hill to climb, with even the US air force online mag admitting that one may face a certain amount of locker room towel-snapping from one's fellow flyboys when moving into UAVs:

When Captain Jason switched from flying B-52 Stratofortress bombers to become a Predator pilot, some other pilots treated him like an outcast.

It's well known that military pilots loathe remote-piloting work, but at present the USAF requires a fully qualified wings-on-chest officer constantly at the controls of every Predator or Reaper roboplane. General Schwartz, whose predecessor "Buzz" Moseley was said to have been fired at least in part for dragging his feet on ramping up drone operations, has previously hinted that he might change this rule - but so far has elected to send more of his pilots into the detested duty, in some cases without even letting them have a proper go at normal planes first. There are also plans to draft retired aviators into the remote forces.

General Schwarz, a former transport pilot whose experience includes assisting in the US evacuation from Saigon in 1975, would seem likely to upset quite a few of his aviators with these moves. Furthermore, some might argue that he has started contradicting himself already. Just last month, for instance, the general told reporters that: "Our crews rely on us to provide them an environment that may not be totally safe".

It would seem that at least some of them, destined to go to the ground control centres in America straight from training, are out of luck on that one.

The Flight report is here. ®

Bootnote

* Really. His civilian boss, acting air force secretary Michael Donley, calls him that.

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