back to article Hundreds of US fighter aces reassigned as drone pilots

The recent surge in use of remotely-controlled robot aircraft by US forces for the Wars on Stuff has meant that substantial numbers of American pilots are now being pulled off normal flight status and assigned to drone-driving duty, according to reports. An AP article revealed the trend on Wednesday. Many current American robo …


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  1. kaiserb_uk


    Those thousands of hours I spent playing flight sims haven't been wasted after all - a career in the military beckons!

    What do you mean it pays less than IT?

  2. Mike Crawshaw

    Hundreds of Aces??

    Hang about - the USAF has hundreds of pilots with 5 or more kills* on their books??? I didn't realise the US had fought anyone with an air force anytime recently**....

    * "ace" is a term to describe a pilot with 5 or more confirmed kills, normally air-to-air.

    ** shooting down the kites of small children in Afghanistan surely can't count!

  3. Bad Beaver
    Thumb Down

    Sad. Just sad.

    So those flying "robots", which are truly just costly RC-planes, allow thickly bespectacled lard-asses to be "fighter" pilots. Wow. You had to be a highly trained specimen of physical excellence to be allowed anywhere near the controls of a fighter jet up until now. "I'm a pilot" will loose all its bragging rights once this news spreads and people realize your primary qualification for "pilot" is your ability to sit upright. What a shame, and what an affront to all those pilots who spent their lives staying in shape in order to be able to risk their asses. As the US are outsourcing half their wars anyway, I would propose they also outsource their piloting - even further - to India, or maybe China, or wait, just have a bunch of eager PFYs in front of gaming rigs nationwide do it for free.

  4. Rick Brasche

    it's political correctness, Mr. Cranshaw...

    kind of a "no pilot left behind". Wouldn't want to traumatize poor pilots by not letting them become aces since they're not allowed to be used in combat...

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Can't see this lasting long

    Assuming it's actually true they're using fully trained fast jet pilots to drive drones, I can't see this as something that will be sustained even if they swap to lower grade pilots e.g. cargo.

    If they have 'spare' pilots available at the moment then it makes sense to use them.

    But in the medium term they'll realise that what makes 'pilots' special is mostly training and physical requirements, neither of which is anywhere near as important when driving a drone from a desk - even if the desk is in a combat zone.

    The actual job of flying is pretty simple, especially in more complex aircraft. The systems management bit maybe isn't so easy, but that can be spun off to a specialist trained in operating the hardware, with the person flying the platform not having to worry so much about what the systems are up to. Sort of like a two-seat aircraft like an F14 or Tornado.

    Given the restricted performance of most UAVs you don't even have to be a very good pilot. Especially if the avionics are any good, as they'll stop you doing stupid things. You may not even need to know how to do take-off or landing as these can be fully automated.

    I would guess that a couple of weeks of training is the maximum that is actually required to fly one of these UAVs. Which makes the use of a fully trained pilot a bit redundant.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    An American Flyboy Foresees His Obsolence?

    Interesting, but doesn't the transmission lag become a problem between Nevada and Afghanistan?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    obviously the next move is

    is to outsource the flying of these drones as that will be cheaper

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture


    ahem - flying kites was illegal under Taliban rule... At least children can fly kites in Afghanistan now

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    "How many combat drops?", "Two, er, including this one"

    "I would guess that a couple of weeks of training is the maximum that is actually required to fly one of these UAVs. Which makes the use of a fully trained pilot a bit redundant."

    I imagine in the long run it will make fully trained pilots themselves redundant.

    Heck, I could do that job. I used to play Falcon 4.0 and that was plenty hard. I have a slightly greater than 1:1 kill/death ratio in Aces High - you have to master the spiral climb, see, and know when to bug out. I know from computer games that you can start up a BF-109 by pressing the "E" key on its keyboard. Also, I was a whizz at Gunship on the Sinclair Spectrum, although not in hard mode.

    That man isn't holding his joystick right.

  10. Shannon Jacobs
    Dead Vulture

    Possible to ignore ACs?

    If the anonymous coward would read before he started pounding with his fat fingers he would have noticed that the article said they used local control for takeoff and landing. That's when response time is critical. While flying at altitude, nothing happens very quickly. Not as sluggish as a ship, but there's plenty of time for responding even with a satellite delay.

    Per the Title line:, I'd much prefer a setting to ignore comments from ACs.

  11. Ian Michael Gumby
    Thumb Up

    You guys are silly.

    Think of it this way.

    If you take a pilot out of a highly manuverable craft like the F22 or JSF, how many g's can it take in a turn?

    Hint: More than a human being can take and over a greater length of time.

    If the USAF was smart, they'd train pilots in both fighters and drones. Better training, better results.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Thickly bespectacled?

    "... which are truly just costly RC-planes, allow thickly bespectacled lard-asses to be "fighter" pilots"

    I'll have you know that I fly RC planes, and my spectacles are not thick. They're bifocal, granted, and my arse is lardy, but I resent the implication that my specs are thick!

  13. Anonymous Coward

    "How many combat drops?"

    Brilliant reference. But didn't it go rather like this:

    (Visibly shits pants)

    "How many combat drops?"

    "Twenty five .... simulated"

    "How many _actual_ combat drops?"

    "Two" (pause) "including this one"

    (Volunteering for this mission was a Bad Idea)

  14. Steve Welsh

    Hmm - Computers Vs Humans


    Have they managed to produce a computer controlled machine that can beat a human at table tennis, on a normal table, using normal bats and normal balls yet?

    So WTF is this all about then?

    All BOLLOX

  15. Martin Usher

    Its sad....

    My daughter had a boyfriend for several years while at college. He was a pilot sponsored by the Air Force, and he did well in his studies. So well that he was one of the just 550 of his senior year to be inducted as a pilot into the USAF. (The vast majority of Air Force types don't get to actually fly planes, you see.) Inside the USAF there's a hierarchy based on training grades, the higher up the pecking order the more choices you get. At the top are the A-10 and fighter (F-22) types. He was interested in flying the F-22.

    You can guess how the story could see it coming even then.....all that training, all those top grades, those rigorous selections to attain the pinnacle of their career -- you get to sit in a cube in an office in Las Vegas driving a laptop. Not unlike the software biz, isn't it? (Now, about that outsourcing.....)

  16. tony trolle

    Drone flight sim

    is there a drone sim out there ?

    I have tried a A-10 flight sim and its bloody hard work went back to F15's lots easier.

  17. Jim Black

    A bit of history

    During the 1920's and 30's, the US Navy and US Marine Corps had enlisted pilots, Sergeants, who were frequently their best pilots. During WW2, the British and other Commonwealth nations had enlisted pilots. So did the Germans and the Japanese. It does not require an officer's qualifications to fly an airplane. The requirement for officer rank derives from a need to a) have someone suitably skilled and legally qualified to command units and b) to more adequately compensate the pilot for the risks involved in aerial flight. Recently pilot selection has been necessarily rigorous both because of the skills and the physical requirements and the screening processes have become based on some factors that enhance long term retention and usability while not significantly contributing to the actual work of flying.

    There will always be a need for piloted combat aircraft because the remoted unit does not provide the full situational awareness that an airborne pilot has nor can it react as quickly. This makes it more likely the remotely piloted vehicle can be lost to enemy action. On the plus side, aircraft are usuallly easier to replace than pilots. I do not see the airborne pilot vs remote pilot issue as a zero-sum game.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    lol @ obviously the next move is


    Hello sir, my name is Vipul and I will be strafing you today.

    First of all, could you tell me, have you rebooted your air defense radar.

  19. Fred Gumby

    Wasted Money

    It apparently takes several $million to train a fighter pilot. For a bucket of quarters (or 50p's) the USAF could get hundreds of "aces" from game arcades. War on the cheap <sigh>.

    Maybe Xboxen should have a new sticker "Get a top score on the included flight sim and win a career killing people the world over!"

  20. ben edwards

    Blue screen of death

    has now been replaced by the blue sky of death. There it is, out that window with the frilly curtains on it.

  21. James Cleveland


    Surely there's lag etc? When the tech develops further, it would be interesting to have practice dogfights between manned and unmanned craft.

  22. Sam

    So is the kill button..

    ..a combination of Ctrl Alt(titude) Delete?

    The Biggles helmet and leather jacket, thanks.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    one single target?

    okay - so to totally neutralise the US air force all i need to do is bomb a few cinderblock buildings in their known locations? great. much easier work than

    hounding the pilots out of the sky, handling the aircraft carriers (with their support craft) or tracking the small airfields around the world.

  24. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    LOL @ USAF and the fixed-wing biggie!

    The USAF shafted the US Army years ago when it insisted it gets to own ALL fixed-wing aircraft, leaving the US Army with just helicopters. That way, the USAF controlled the monster share of the air budget and could force its own choices on the US Army. Ever since, the Army has grumbled about the mismatch in ground support. Now, the USAF is stuck having to provide the pilots to fly the US Army's drones, otherwise the Army will be able to use the drones as a means of getting back into the fixed-wing business. And as it insists only it has the capability to train real pilots, the USAF has shot itself in the foot and must now provide said expensive pilots to fly the drones, leaving it no option but to take those big-headed F-15 drivers and put them behind keyboards, or capitulate and let the US Army run its own show (which would probably be the cheaper and more effective option). Doncha just love interservce rivalries?

  25. Charles Manning

    Fretting about time lag

    Lag would likely be an issue for flying a regular plane where the pilot is the "control system" and have to deal with stalling, slipping etc. UAVs are a bit different in that they are able to do all the fancy stuff like stall and slip handling automatically with onboard computers. The UAV "pilot" controls movement but has far less opportunity to crash the plane other than deliberately flying it into the ground. Indeed, many UAVs can automatically perform take off, figure out how to fly to a GPS coordinate and even land. All that is required is a half-way savvy person to set up the flight (runway coordinates, target coorinates etc)

    Using pilots for this purpose is an anachronism, like using electrical engineers as radiomen.

  26. Alex Forbes


    I wonder how these UAVs would fair when facing up against any nation with a decent electronic warfare capacity (and enough power behind the fairly simply technology required to jam radio communications).

    How do these planes get their updates? Are they using "directed" transmissions which only work with "line of sight" (think satellite dishes and satellites) or do work work like normal radios?

    On a final note, if a nation took out the (US military) satellites covering their land mass, would America still be able to wage war effectively using these? I presume destroying the satellites would take out the GPS system hence make most targeting and location systems fail, or are their realistic alternative guidance and triangulation systems on modern weapons?

  27. John Griffiths



    See how well a manned modern plane would perform in the face of serious innovative EW and the removal of GPS.

    The meatbag in the cockpit isn't adding much.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "...a nation took out the (US military) satellites covering their land mass,...I presume destroying the satellites would take out the GPS system..."

    Then you presume wrong. GPS satellites are not geostationary, and if you took out the satellites in "your" sky at T-time, they'd soon be replaced by others. You'd be degrading the system, but there are spares already in orbit. There aren't many foes with the ability to shoot down multiple small targets, certainly not the insurgent types the US will be fighting for the forseeable.

    War with the new superpowers (China, India, a resurgent Russia) who actually might have the tech to shoot down satellites in numbers is frankly unthinkable.

  29. Andrew K Jones

    Mostly @Fred Gumby

    Anyone remember this:

    "Greetings Starfighter,

    You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko'dan armada"

    Mines the pressure suit with the fishbowl helmet.

  30. Philip Cheeseman

    How many lives do you get?

    What happens when the first gamer crashes a drone and asks where their next life is?

  31. Neil Richards

    Fighter Pilots

    Just give them A.I.

    Have you guys ever tried to shoot down an ememy in Ace Combat 6 on expert mode (video game)

    Just give the drones A.I. and custom wing with big engines and missiles and they will pull 14 Gs no probs and shoot any human ace out of the sky, twisting around like a supersonic ribbon in space. A human pilot would never be able to shoot down a well programmed and of course well mechanically realised drone.

  32. Slaine

    Me ACE too - gimmi job

    I have, to my credit, at least 5 confirmed kills obtained whilst engaged in arial dog-fights. Admittedly, I had also died about 2500 times in the line of duty but that's the way Battlefield2 works.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bound to happen

    Without guns and bombs, the Air Force would just be another expensive flying club!

  34. Steve Roper

    Taking out GPS sats...

    ...isn't all that hard or costly if you have the mere facility to get a rocket into LEO. In fact I think Sir A. C. Clarke actually came up with this technique a couple of decades ago, and it still stands: Launch an LEO-capable rocket with a payload of ordinary sand or gravel, and have it scatter this along the path of the GPS sats in a retrograde orbit. At orbital velocities, sand and gravel will shred the sats instantly, one after the other, as they cross the target area. Cheap, simple, effective, and the materials are readily available.

    That leaves RF transmission to control the planes - and a wideband jammer can soon take care of that. Methinks the US is heading for a rude awakening pretty soon if it thinks it can rely on this tech to win its wars.

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