USAF slammed for pranging Predators on manual
'Xbox flyer' sergeants + autopilots do better
A senior Pentagon official has delivered a stinging attack on the US Air Force, saying that its philosophy of using fully qualified human pilots to handle unmanned aircraft at all times has resulted in unnecessary, expensive crashes. By contrast, US Army drones with auto-landing equipment and cheaply-trained operators have an enviable record.
The comments were made by John Young, outgoing acquisition chief at the Defense Department. Young's remarks are reported differently by various media, and were followed up with corrections by his staff, so it's hard to be sure how many of what classes of aircraft he said had crashed or not crashed.
What's clear is that in Young's view the Air Force deliberately insisted on not having auto-landing in their well-known Predator drones, and that this has been unnecessarily costly.
"The Air Force built a budget that didn’t include putting auto-land capability in their Predators, despite the fact that we’ve lost a third of the Predators we’ve ever bought, and a significant fraction of the losses are attributable either to the ground control station or the pilot’s operation of that ground control station, or the pilot’s operation of the vehicle," he said, according to Stars and Stripes.
It's well known that Air Force Predators and Reapers must be handled at all times in flight by a fully-qualified human pilot, a commissioned officer and gentleman/woman who has learned his or her trade in normal manned aircraft. During landing and takeoff, this pilot officer will be in a control station at the runway, so as to reduce latency: but for most of a mission the aircraft is handled over satcomms from bases in the USA.
The US Army has a differing philosophy: it's "Sky Warrior" variant of the Predator is intended to land itself automatically, and the present-day Shadow has such kit already. Army drones are controlled by noncomissioned tech specialists who, while fully trained and qualified for their job, have no airborne stick time in regular aircraft. They are always in theatre with the rest of the troops.
A US Army sergeant, qualified to fly both the Warrior and the Shadow and with operational experience in Iraq, recently told the Reg:
Officers and Warrant Officers have a college degree as per their job requirements. NCOs and Enlisted Soldiers are not required to have a degree to join the military and tend to be seen as little more than trained monkeys ... The US Air Force considers itself to be the only branch qualified to fly aircraft. They have been trying to take the UAS program away from the Army as a matter of principle ... Previous training in crewed aircraft is irrelevant to UAS training ... I am insulted by much of the 'Oh, you fly an X-box' mentality which I constantly have to battle.
To expand on what others have said: contrary to the urban myth that they were all la-di-da ex-public-schoolboys, Flight Sergeants made up the majority of fighter pilots during the Battle of Britain. The myth arose because of one particular propaganda film that was made at the time. The director happened to be a la-di-da ex-public-schoolboy himself and naturally gravitated towards the handful of la-di-da ex-public-schoolboys who happened to be present at the base to which he was sent. They fannied about, going "la-di-da" and speaking some childish esoteric banter; that's what people saw on the Pathé newsreels, and an urban myth was born.
@Crabs: No, no no, the only people who get medals and awards in the AF are the ones who don't do anything and don't deserve them. That would include, finance, admin, plans & scheduling, services, etc. Anyone who actually works in the AF doesn't get jack. Well, at least in aircraft maintenance at any rate...
Ahem... back to topic...
This just goes to prove what everyone who has ever dealt with USAF flight crew has always known. They're useless, worthless and can't fly worth shit. That a 'trained monkey' could fly better than they can. And those flight crews hate that. In the AF we're expected to treat officers like lords and kings and flight crew like gods. With announcements like this it's hard to maintain that air of superiority. But as I said, most anyone who's ever worked with the morons figured that out about 3 days into the job. They're the biggest bunch of babies you could imagine, especially when it comes to trying to get them to fess up that they fucked up. At my old base, we were ordered to never fill out paperwork using certain error codes on CAMs such as "User error" or "Operator error." Not because it wasn't these things, but that it implied that our officers weren't perfect.
Of course about 95% of the problems were in fact user error. I believe the sign-off of the month on those jobs in the 781s was something along the lines of "R2 yoke mic switch actuator." What a yoke mic switch has to do with a RADAR problem, nothing. But the thing that activates that switch...
In Britains "Darkest Hour", the Sergeant Pilot rank was a kind of mutant NCO - flying as a warrant officer....The US was the same with their own equivalent ranks. They were not allowed to enjoy the services of the officers mess or officers pay. If I remember correctly this classification was removed post world war II in the UK, pilot positions being reserved for the officer classes, but has staggered on in the Army Air Corps. In the US, the army retained their program of flying NCO's and US Navy has been showing interest in reintroducing the concept.
To say it was social class driven doesn't really do it justice.....
Traditionally the officer pilots spend plenty of time flying desks at various times throughout their careers before being kicked upstairs eventually into command positions. Sergeant Pilots and the old Flying Officer rank however could expect to spend their entire forces career as pilots and as such could rack up tremendous seat time and experience.