Military AviationA forum for the professionals who fly military hardware. Also for the backroom boys and girls who support the flying and maintain the equipment, and without whom nothing would ever leave the ground. All armies, navies and air forces of the world equally welcome here.
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...
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!
Last edited by 5 Forward 6 Back; 11th Aug 2012 at 18:11.
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.
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".
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!
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@nker: 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...
Location: Quite near 'An aerodrome somewhere in England'
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!"
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.
I don't own this space under my name. I should have leased it while I still could
Join Date: Dec 2002
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.
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...
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."
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.