View Full Version : Crystal ball stuff
11th Aug 2012, 15:26
Sipping a cold beer in the garden earlier this week, I looked up to see a contrail flying east over Reading. 'Somebody's working' remarked my wife. Opening up the iPad, it was immediately identified as a 747 of EVA Airways, JFK to Brussels at 39 thousand and 35 mins out from destination (FlightRadar24 app). This set me musing on the extraordinary revolution in data transmission. A thought provoking article in Spectator (4 Aug 12) on drone warfare came to mind. Is it correct to assume RAF controllers of such devices are always aircrew? Should such controllers be qualified pilots? With offensive action would they gain campaign medals when controlling far from the theatre? Do controllers qualify for flying pay? It all seems a world away from when I trained on Harvards and flew Meteor IIIs at AFS...
5 Forward 6 Back
11th Aug 2012, 18:10
Is it correct to assume RAF controllers of such devices are always aircrew? Should such controllers be qualified pilots? With offensive action would they gain campaign medals when controlling far from the theatre? Do controllers qualify for flying pay?
In simple terms, yes (it's an aircraft; why wouldn't you have pilots flying it?), yes but not necessarily ones who've undergone the current training pipeline for manned types, no, only when in theatre, and yes, because they're aircrew in a flying-related job.
The Americans have a different stream for RPAS pilots, which I think is a sensible idea. RPAS pilots don't need to have spent hours honing their close formation skills, nor do they need hours and hours of low flying practice. The degree of automation means a lot of raw flying skills aren't required in the same way they are in the cockpit of a fast jet.
However, they need airmanship by the skipload, so it's certainly wise to have some crossover types with extensive manned flying backgrounds in the fleet.
Would you pay future drone-only pilots flying pay? Don't know. If it's still sold as a recruitment and retention measure, then the fact that drone pilots aren't as readily valuable to civilian airlines as manned pilots implies you don't need to pay as much to retain them, so perhaps a smaller rate?
Regarding calling them "controllers," RAF Reapers aren't like little Desert Hawk UAVs etc. They're not flown with a laptop and a little controller, they're flown like proper aircraft; stick, throttle, rudders, a full weapons system, etc etc. The crew are very definitely flying them!
11th Aug 2012, 18:29
Is it correct to assume RAF controllers of such devices are always aircrew?
I'm not quite as sure as 5F6B. I would say generally yes. However, a few years ago, a trial was undertaken to put a number of non-aircrew types through UAV pilot training, and initial applications were I believe accepted from pretty well any Branch. Those selected would undergo the basics of flying training and some instrument training before converting to Reaper. I'm not sure what happened, whether the trial ran as planned and spat some non-aircrew types into the UAV system or whether it was binned.
However, whilst RAF controllers are generally if not always aircrew, I know the USAF now have a specific UAV pilot career stream that anyone can apply to and become a type-rated UAV pilot. Given how the RAF seems to try and copy everything the USAF does in some way shape or form, maybe it won't be too long before our UAV drivers are spotty 12 year olds sitting in a grubby bedroom somewhere.
11th Aug 2012, 18:44
Trial DAEDALUS is alive and well.
UAV trial shows non-pilots 'equally skilled', says RAF (http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/uav-trial-shows-non-pilots-equally-skilled-says-raf-355001/)
They are de facto pilots having flown solo in a Grob, completed IRs in the Tucano sim and having in excess of 170hrs stick time before being let loose on the MQ-1. There are co-pilots on large multis with less stick time than these "non-pilots". The biggest difference is that the route they took to learn to fly was significantly cheaper than the current pilot training "pipelines".
11th Aug 2012, 18:45
The latest CAA document concerning the policy for civil or military drones has just been released.
You can download it from http://www.caa.co.uk/docs/33/CAP722.pdf
Will drones ever be acceptable for passenger flying? Absolutely no way, I would suggest.
As for Trial Daedalus, can you imagine the sponsor saying that it hadn't been successful? The words of Mandy Rice-Davies spring to mind....
But who on earth would ever want to join the RAF just to spend their life in a tin box eating doughnuts and operating drones?
5 Forward 6 Back
11th Aug 2012, 19:05
DAEDALUS I didn't mention, as they're not actually on an RAF squadron nor flying RAF aircraft. But it proves we could put together our own stream that matches the USAF one and have equal success; simply, there's no need for a guy destined for drones to spend hours zipping around the Welsh countryside in a Hawk.
These things are absolutely here to stay, so we need a way to feed the fleet in the future that doesn't just copy the current plan of moving people from other platforms. While having someone from an AH64 or GR4 background flying Reaper certainly brings a lot of weaponeering knowledge, you don't need an entire force composed of people like that.
BEagle, I wouldn't imagine this will be a 4th stream alongside FJ, ME and RW, but more a different career branch altogether. If people join the RAF to sit in bunkers as fighter controllers, then some will join to sit in a caravan flying drones!
11th Aug 2012, 19:09
But who in earth would ever want to join the RAF just to sit in a tin box and operate drones?
I guess anyone who joined the RAF just to look at radar scopes..................
11th Aug 2012, 19:13
Or come to think of it, who would join to fly racetracks on autopilot at FL180 whilst eating doughnuts in an AAR VC10? :eek:
11th Aug 2012, 19:27
Nice one Iraven, what would sound better at a war memorial in 2035:
Boy: What did you do in the Afghan War mister?
Tanker-W@<hidden>: Well son, I lived in a 4-star hotel way behind enemy lines and sat 3 miles above the action eating in-flight donuts and giving fuel away for 6 hours.
Boy: What did you do in the Afghan War mister?
"Drone" Pilot: Well son, I lived on the outskirts of Vegas, drove to work in a V8 Camaro - you know like the yellow car in Transformers. I met my wife in a cabaret show on the strip. A normal day would involve building a pattern of life for a special forces operation, then I would support it by opening the operation with a weapons shot on an enemy guard post and then supporting the forces on the ground with Close Air Support. After that was finished I was called to a fire fight to provide a shot against an enemy sniper team pinning down some British forces who had called "troops in contact". After that I gathered intel with my world class suite of sensors. At the end of the day, I drove my Camaro back to home, had a snooze and then went water skiing on Lake Mead.
Boy: Gosh mister, that's pretty cool. My dad would like to buy you a beer...
11th Aug 2012, 20:04
Well, it depends on whether your interest is in flying large aircraft around the world, or doing some remote w*g-plinking from a tin box in the desert.
2035, Lincoln UK:
Boy: "That's a veteran's badge, isn't it mister? What did you do after the war?"
AAR mate: "Well, after the Libyan thing, it all became rather quiet for a few years. But after a spell flying the A330MRTT around the world hauling Typhoons and F-35s to various places, I left to fly airliners - my Type Rating lined me up for an A380 job and I've been a captain on them now for 10 years. A bit boring, compared to RAF days, but it pays the bills. Hotels are ncie too!".
Drone operator: "Well, after the Libyan thing, they sent us back to operate drones at Waddington. My Camaro rusted away after a year in Lincolnshire, of course and it was a bit boring spotting for grunts on Salisbury Plain all day. So I left - couldn't get a job at Dunkin' Donuts as they all closed in the UK. So I came to work here at 13/14 Cornhill....."
Boy: "Oh. Big Mac, large fries and a coke please!"
Drone operator: "Regular coke?"
11th Aug 2012, 20:16
Playing Devil's Advocate here.
14 year old, playing MS Flight Simulator on a home computer. He (whoops, PC) she, can input all sorts of buggeration factors into whatever 'sim' he/she flies.
5 years on, the 19 year old is 'the ace of the base' with a joystick, rotary throttle and 'instrument' flying.
Could he/she effectively fly a drone?
11th Aug 2012, 20:34
Surely the real question is 'why exactly the RAF is the operator of these RC planes?'. They only operate in support of army operations, and they don't actually require pilots. Various army units already operate smaller UAVs, so the actual pilots in the AAC must surely be able to fly and maintain these, just as they do with the manned fixed-wing aircraft they own. I can't imagine anyone joining the RAF with a view to physically flying an aircraft seeing this as a good posting, whereas, I'd imagine, this would be quite an interesting job for your average squaddie.
11th Aug 2012, 20:38
RPV controllers is not the only branch where the USAF recruits off the street, so to speak. The same has been true for AWACS crews.
The RAF OTOH used displaced aircrew and bunker rats. Before you could fly as a controller you have to qualify in the UKADGE first. The reason why we take people from exisiting roles such as aircrew and GE and re-role them is, I suspect, because the gene pool is too small.
The FAA might be considered an example where essentially they had only FJ and RW.
11th Aug 2012, 20:46
AAR bloke: ...after I left I couldn't get a job long haul because my hours and experience accounted for diddly squat under the new EASA rules. I had to spend my non-existent FAFPS2015 gratuity to pay for my IR and type rating and I now owe O'Leary £50k. I tried to get a job in the defence industry but my swanning about in 4-star hotels with a Samsonite was not an adequate exposure to real war fighting operations. In the end I became a flying instructor at White Waltham on £28k per year just for quality of life. Now that they fly unmanned trans-atlantic these days, I wish I'd joined the military program earlier instead of sticking with old technology.
RPAS chap: ...I went to work for the HMCoastguard and the National Police Aviation Service. Because I was at the forefront of burgeoning new technology my experience was at a premium and they paid me a mint. I replaced my Camaro with a new Z-type jag and still had enough cash left to pay for my wife's new boob job. The book I wrote in retirement as a pioneer of the remotely piloted air system was a best-seller and described as fascinating; I go to after dinner speeches regularly to describe my combat experience in provided on-call CAS.
Back in the real world, LJ realised that he should have watched Tom Daley win a medal...:ok:
11th Aug 2012, 20:56
I go to after dinner speeches regularly to describe my combat experience in provided on-call CAS.
"I drone away about operating drones...."
I'll bet those speeches would be so interesting......:hmm:
11th Aug 2012, 21:11
Thankful that, when they asked "Would you accept nav training?" I said "No, Sir."
Why was I so sure? Because I was an ex MN engineer and knew that MN nav officers had a very small range of 'dead men's shoes' shore appointments available to them.
As an RAF nav said to me much later: "Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted."
11th Aug 2012, 21:14
There is a parallel thread running on the RAAF's Air Combat Officers. Perhaps this is the way to go.
12th Aug 2012, 03:11
In case anyone is interested, here is a link to the USAF plan for operating RPAs.
In the USAF, each Predator / Reaper RPA crew comprises one Pilot and one Sensor Operator. The USAF has set a capability target of 65 x 24/7 RPA orbits by 2013 - 10 crews are required to sustain each orbit. This has created a requirement for 650 Sensor Operators. The USAF has now created a new enlisted career field to satisfy this requirement.
RPA Ramp Up (http://www.airforce-magazine.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/2011/June%202011/0611RPA.aspx)
As an aside, the linked article was published in June 2011 and there are already more RPA pilots than F-16 pilots in the USAF.
12th Aug 2012, 04:12
Having done the 170hrs in training, will these RPV controllers miss the flying and wish they were back in an aircraft seat? I know I would.
Being a Voyager pilot sounds infinately preferable.
12th Aug 2012, 10:45
The advantage of 'flying from the ground' is that one is highly unlikely to run out of Dunkin' Donuts.
Bagsy the ones with maple frosting.
12th Aug 2012, 11:20
"I drone away about operating drones...."
I'll bet those speeches would be so interesting......
19,000 plus posts filled with apposite wit and erudition. Irony is dead:8
12th Aug 2012, 14:15
As an aside, the linked article was published in June 2011 and there are already more RPA pilots than F-16 pilots in the USA
There's an interesting article in the most recent Janes Defence Weekly about this very topic. Whilst the numbers might look rosy, there appears to be a growing discontent amongst the RPA crews that there is a degree of apartheid between the RPA crews and the traditional rated pilots (seemingly around the question of medallic recognition leading to a sense of being 'second XI' pilots).
Also, questions are starting to be asked about how long an RPA would survive in contested airspace where an opponent has an IADS. Predator et al have been fantastically successful in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, but all of these theatres have been essentially permissive air environments (for FW operating at higher level, certainly not for RW).
All in all, the next few years should be an interesting time for RPAs. I can see a massive role for them e.g MPA and other ISR related tasks in benign airspace, but they are hardly a low cost option to be thrown away like the Army's Phoenix UAVs were a few years back. It's going to take some careful thought and will probably depend on a few RPA operators / customers making it to a high enough rank to guarantee some influence in the decision making process though.
12th Aug 2012, 14:46
Also, questions are starting to be asked about how long an RPA would survive in contested airspace where an opponent has an IADS.
Quite so. Once the opposition have cottoned on to that, it wouldn't take long to develop a drone-swatting capability.
In addition, there is the unpalatable consideration of the terrorist threat to the drone operators themselves. Safe in the Nevada desert is one thing, but in the UK less than an hour from where the 'bruvs' breed in droves, it probably wouldn't take long before some ba$tard 'martyr' decided to commit an outrage.
Sending a real pilot off to a remote part of the world for a tour in a secure environment would be one thing, but expecting someone who might just have splattered Ali bin-liner all over the desert to spend the next 5 years looking over his shoulder is something else.
Drones have been successful, I agree. But for anyone to want to spend a career operating the things is perhaps a different matter.
You raise a valid point re drone pilots and repercussions.
Something that I have raised in the past is the psychological effects that drone pilots may suffer from; that is the effects of actually fighting a war from "home". One minute you are protecting the troops on the ground, trying to stop them from being killed, or even watching them being shot, or bombing the enemy. The next minute you are on your way home to the wife and children. It takes a very special mindset to be able to change from killer to dad, or husband, every day for weeks and months on end.
At least many of the aircrew involved directly in doing the same in your traditional aircraft are based in the war zone, or aircraft carriers, where there are many people in the same situation.
Also remember, when you were flying that VC10 (I am envious of you) that you were stuck in a tube looking out of them windows. A drone pilot/ team also have windows, of a sort. They are the cameras through which you see things - like the enemy, or the friendly forces you are protecting.
12th Aug 2012, 19:14
In my original post I queried whether a drone operator, far from the action, would qualify for a campaign medal. The immediate response was negative but I suggest the issue is not clear cut. Allow me to postulate the following scenario. An operator of a killer drone, flying it far from the action is particularly successful in destroying a number of enemy drones whilst evading attempts by the enemy to destroy his own drone. How might this be officially recognised? Certainly not by an award of an AFC. By a DFC? But how can this be reconciled without a campaign medal?
Doughnut & Bar seems poor recognition.
The B Word
12th Aug 2012, 19:45
The Army tend to run the Medals Board and their mantra is "personal rigour" - ie. if you're not in danger from the enemy then you don't get a Campaign gong. It all seems a bit bizarre when you can get a gong in Afghanistan if you're, for example, in the AGC and cashing cheques in an admin section at Kandahar/Bastin, or ISTAR and tanker drivers flying 3-4 miles over the top of any action from a friendly ME country without any surface to air capability to schwack you, etc...
You could argue that anyone involved in the REAPER UOR has had a lot more influence from their efforts on the Afghan campaign, than most others. Don't forget, there's no roulement, no R&R, they eat, live, sleep and work Afghan Ops every day they are at work. I hope the mindset for rigour will change, as others have posted there is a lot of immersal in day to day Afghan action and, although doing it from a "tin box", they have to exercise courageous restraint, courage to decide to take life to save others and then have to live with it.
The only ones on the REAPER UOR that currently get UK Afghan Campaign Medals are those that fly/maintain the aircraft out of their forward operating bases - why? Because there's a mortar/rocket risk to their life and therefore are subject to "personal rigour"! :ugh:
The B Word
12th Aug 2012, 19:57
Pay rise and/or option of signing on past 18/40 would be recompense for many.
The B Word
12th Aug 2012, 20:00
On the subject of survivability in an IADS then MQ-1 did very well over Serbia, Kosovo, Iraq and Libya; all of these had fighter aircraft that had to be defended by Allied fighter sweeps. It also allowed other defenseless aircraft like Nimrod, Sentry, Sentinel, VC10, Tristar, Canberra to operate once protected by a screen of OCA and/or SEAD. I see no diffence for our current flock of RPAS save for the RQ-170 that seems to operate in IADS quite nicely (including operating over Pakistan undetected and unmolested!).
So, don't believe the naysayers, they have no clear evidence to back up their claims apart from a single MQ-1 that was shot down trying to exchange shots with a MiG25 over Iraq - unfortunately, the Hellfire guided towards the contrail of the MiG but the MiG's Radar Missile guided to target! Or the single Hermes 450 shot down by a Russian MiG29 - the Georgian "operator" did nothing to react apart from watch, why? Because he was trained as an "operator" and not as aircrew. He could have descended in a tight very slow spiral and hid in Main Beam Clutter, but he was probably never taught this as an "operator".
Finally, RPA are expendable. The average RPA costs around £3-7M each depending on payload and performance. The average manned fighter aircraft costs nearly 10 times that. So if you only lose 50% of your RPAs vice that of your manned aircraft to achieve your strategic aims, plus the added bonus of no loss of life, then you are on a financial winner.
The B Word
12th Aug 2012, 21:42
Mike - your question goes right to the heart of why so many USAF RPA crews are starting to feel like the 'second XI' because they are limited in what medals they can get. The edition of JDW in question mentions it but it's currently on my desk at work, but IIRC, they are only eligible for things like campaign medals and aerial achievement medals - they can't qualify for the sexier ones like the DFC or Air Force Cross.
B Word - I think you will find inflation has bumped your RPA costs up somewhat. The DoD quoted price per unit for an MQ-9 Reaper is closer to $37,000,000 per platform - hence why we have so few of them. Based on that cost, they are far from expendible when the MOD is broke!
12th Aug 2012, 22:33
A lot more discussion of costs here:
2. The MQ-9′s Cost and Performance | U.S. | TIME.com (http://nation.time.com/2012/02/28/2-the-mq-9s-cost-and-performance/)
The B Word
12th Aug 2012, 23:19
I know exactly how much we paid the USAF for our Reapers under Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and your figures per aircraft are massively wrong. I suspect your $37M quote is for a Reaper system, which includes 4 aircraft, 2 Ground Control Stations, Ground Data Terminals and the infrastructure to connect it all up. Also, the price changes depending on what sensor/weapons fit you order. Don't forget that what one country pays is different to another and so what the RAF paid exactly is very commercially sensitive.
The B Word
12th Aug 2012, 23:34
and so what the RAF paid exactly is very commercially sensitive.
Which probably means that you should stfu with trying to hint at your inside knowledge
The B Word
12th Aug 2012, 23:43
13th Aug 2012, 00:37
The documents are available on t'internet. Jeez.
15th Aug 2012, 06:48
EngO that time article would be hilarious if it wasn't so depressing. It is a great example of the worst of journalism.
The author decides to define a unit of reaper as all the aircraft and kit needed to sustain a 24/7/365 orbit, which isn't a bad idea, but then proceeds to compare it to a single aircraft of various types. He should have compared it to however many f16s it takes to cover a 24/7/365 task, but then he wouldn't get the answer he is desperately seeking.
15th Aug 2012, 09:11
Why do they wear Nomex flying suits?:E
15th Aug 2012, 10:27
Because you can't get the old lightweight flying coveralls these days?
Surrounded by electronic systems in their desert tin boxes, the wearing of protective Nomex garments by drone operators seems eminently sensible to me.
Plus when they get back to Vegas, they can easily wash the sweat (and doughnut grease) off by showering in their flying suits - used to work a treat when we did that during APC at Akronelli.
15th Aug 2012, 10:39
Why do they wear Nomex flying suits?
Perhaps Dunkin's best produce excess methane?
15th Aug 2012, 11:20
tonker, pen holders and pockets in the right places?
You could also ask that question at Geilenkechen. Why do the gate guards wear nomex flight suits?
15th Aug 2012, 11:30
On the subject of survivability in an IADS then MQ-1 did very well over Serbia, Kosovo, Iraq and Libya;
Past performance is no guarantee of future survivability.
Also, questions are starting to be asked about how long an RPA would survive in contested airspace where an opponent has an IADS. . . . essentially permissive air environments
The B Word
15th Aug 2012, 17:39
Predator first started flying ops 17 years ago in the Balkans, do you really think they're just starting to think about it? :ugh:
15th Aug 2012, 20:09
I distinctly recall that during my stint at Ali Al Salem, spanning 9/11, the collocated USAF Predator det lost at least 2 "drones" to SAMs. IMHO not a great portent considering the degraded state of their IADS after 9 years of enforcing the Southern NFZ.
15th Aug 2012, 21:09
Predator first started flying ops 17 years ago in the Balkans, do you really think they're just starting to think about it?
Frankly, it wouldn't surprise me - well thinking about it in any serious manner with due consideration to all the potential operational effects. We have been so indoctrinated into the fact that Iraq and Afghanistan represents the new - and only - form of warfare and that RPAs are the answer to everything that to consider anything else was until now heresy.
When you read the various think pieces and listen to the talk about the future character of conflict coming out of various study days and presentations, one gets the distinct impression that people sound vaguely surprised that the air threat in Afghanistan is not representative of what we might have to go up against some day. But I'm still not convinces that they have squared the circle of an over reliance on RPAs against the likelihood that they will be lost if they go up against any credible AD network without significant investment in defensive capabilities and revised CONOPS.
15th Aug 2012, 21:51
Why do they wear Nomex flying suits?
Ever tried to light a newly filled Zippo?