An Air Force Times article has an interesting summation of the feelings about RPA/UAV pilots in the Air Force:
Becoming a fighter pilot is still a hotly coveted goal at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
But slowly, a culture change is taking hold.
Initially snubbed as second-class pilot-wannabes, the airmen who remotely control America’s arsenal of lethal drones are gaining stature and securing a permanent place in the Air Force.
The article then says part of the reason for the “draw” to the drone career is the very-public successes of drone missions:
Drawn to the flashy drone strikes that have taken out terrorists including al-Qaida leader Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen to the terror group’s No. 2 strongman Abu Yahya al-Libi in Pakistan, airmen are beginning to target unmanned aircraft as their career of choice.
Of course, few noticed that analysis relies on a very significant assumption: That al-Awlaki and al-Libi were killed by UAVs. It may not matter, as the perception is what may be driving the attraction.
The article completely ignores a potentially more significant factor in the decision to become a UAV pilot: UAV pilots are far more likely to stay home with their families, compared to fighter pilots who are deployed anywhere from 3 to 6 months every 18 to 24 months.
In other words, young fighter pilots are getting burned out and are taking UAV tours because they’re a break, relatively speaking. That’s not to say the UAV operators don’t work hard, but at the end of their mission they’re still in the US of A (most of them, anyway), and they still see their families. It’s a quality of life issue as much as anything else.
Only now are the first UAV operators who have never previously been a pilot entering the field. It would be interesting to see their response if they were offered a fighter jet instead of their control console, as opposed to those who have experienced that life already.
The article continues the awkward tradition of only using UAV operator’s first names:
Drone pilot Maj. Ted began his Air Force career as an F-16 pilot but shifted to flying drones…The U.S. military doesn’t allow drone pilots to make their full names public because of concerns the pilots could be targeted.
Apparently there’s no concern that pilots of manned aircraft might be targeted, since the Air Force allows not only full names, call signs, and hometowns, but also video interviews summarizing their combat missions to be broadcast around the world and on the internet.
Are the streets of Indian Springs really that much less secure than those in Italy and the Middle East? Maybe its just another way to add to the mystique…