It used to be the airmen controlling drones were considered ?pilot-wannabes? in the Air Force, but the Air Force is currently looking to fill 300 military jobs for drone pilots, making the position more desirable. Like fighter pilots, drone pilots direct the drones over battlefields to support US troops in Afghanistan, listening for the commanders and waiting for instructions to fire ? but they do it from locations thousands of miles away from the action via computer screens, joysticks and headphones.
Even as US troops begin to withdraw from Afghanistan there is a plan to increase the number of drones in the US Military fleet in order to meet surveillance, intelligence and targeting needs for US commanders in South America, the Pacific and Africa. Drones have other uses beyond combat which further increases the demand for drone pilots in the Air Force.
Drone pilots are responsible for taking out the al-Qaida leader Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen and Abu Yahya al-Libi in Pakistan, which has led to an increase of airmen choosing military jobs in the field of drone pilots. Pilots are considering drones as the future method for air combat, and there is a current shortfall of more than 300 drone pilots in the US Military as unmanned aircraft become more popular. Previously, fighter pilots had to be forced into drone pilot positions to meet the increased need for drone pilots. The system that forced drone pilot military job assignments on fighter pilots has been replaced with a new system that creates an entirely new career path to attract drone pilots into the training pipeline. The Air Force also asked 500 of the airmen who were moved into drone pilot assignments if they would like to remain drone pilots and 412 of them volunteered ? giving a promising outlook to the growth of this career specialty in the Air Force.
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Military Jobs: What Drone Pilots Do
You might think being an Air Force drone pilot is a lot like playing video games, but the drone workstation looks more like mission control with 12 or more computer screens in front of the pilots. Each screen provides live camera footage from the aircraft, to help give the pilots a better understanding of the aircraft environment. Some of the screens show maps and other data related to the operation. Some drone pilots have said the influx of information drone pilots have is often more than that of a pilot in an F-16 – and everything a drone pilot receives is two-dimensional and has to be processed into a three-dimensional image in their minds. A fighter pilot can simply look out the window of their aircraft to see what is going on around them.
Each aircraft is operated by a drone pilot and a sensor operator. The sensor operator controls where the cameras on the aircraft are pointing, and will zoom in on targets if necessary. Drone pilots wear headphones to listen to commanders orders and steer the aircraft with joysticks.
Drone aircraft can carry laser-guided bombs and Hellfire missiles.