Drone Notes: Drone pilot recruitment, and not crashing your new Christmas gift

by Todd Jones ([email protected]) 223 views 

Editor’s Note: Drone Notes is compiled by Todd Jones, and is published twice a month.


Drones have become more popular on the commercial market, but military drone use is something that has been well documented. Much of the war against terrorism is being waged using drones, with the U.S. Air Force taking new measures to boost its number of drone pilots.

For the first time since World War II, the U. S. Air Force is looking to the enlisted ranks to help with drone – remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) – operations, according to Air Force Times.

“Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James announced Thursday (December 17th) that enlisted airmen will be able to fly RQ-4 Global Hawks, unarmed RPAs that fly high-altitude reconnaissance missions.”

The Air Force explained: “There are no weapons on the RQ-4. However, there are not limitations on enlisted members employing weapons,” said Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Karns. “The Air Force employs enlisted airmen on other aircraft where they are responsible for employing lethal force where necessary.”

The 188th Wing based in Fort Smith is involved in drone – remotely piloted aircraft – activities for the Air Force, with its largest unit being an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance group.

Also, Air Force officials recently announced their intent to offer critical skills retention bonuses to drone pilots who remain active. For the first time, the Air Force next year will offer a critical skills retention bonus to airmen who fly remotely piloted aircraft such as the Predator drones that have become a signature weapon of war over the past decade.

Pilots who agree to remain in service for five more years will be eligible for a “Critical Skills Retention Bonus” of up to $125,000. Other RPA pilots, meanwhile, will continue to be eligible for Aviator Retention Pay that could give them from $75,000 to $225,000, depending on how many additional years of service they commit to.

The Pentagon has requested a large budget to help fund various technological advantages for national security.

The Pentagon’s fiscal 2017 budget request will include $12 billion to $15 billion to fund war gaming, experimentation and the demonstration of new technologies aimed at ensuring a continued military edge over China and Russia, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work has said.

The U.S. military plans to invest in autonomous weapons and deep-learning machines that draw on advances in artificial intelligence, with a heavy focus on human-machine collaboration and teaming in combat, Work said.

“This is designed to make the human more effective in combat,” he said at a conference hosted by the Center for a New American Security. “We believe that the advantage we have is … our people; that tech-savvy people who’ve grown up in the iWorld will kick the crap out of people who grew up in the iWorld under an authoritarian reign.”

The next time you visit a National Park and are tempted to bring along A drone, you might want to double check the rules and policies. Flying drones over a National Park can result in a fine.

Many drone owners know they should keep their devices away from airports and downtown Washington, D.C., but they might be surprised to find out that they also can’t use them in national parks.

The allure is clear. Big Bend, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and other national parks can offer spectacular views when filmed from above. But those who try to do it with a drone may face penalties and fines.

Specific unmanned aircraft regulations were put in place in July 2014, said U.S. National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis. “I needed to sort of draw the line” when drone use spiked, Jarvis said.

The drones are prohibited because their presence can be disturbing, not only to people trying to peacefully enjoy the parks, but also to wildlife. Drones “can interfere with, let’s say, nesting birds or wildlife that is, you know, high on the mountain,” Jarvis said.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), more than 1 million people received a drone for Christmas.

The day after Christmas, Scott Gilbertson at Wired posted “How to avoid immediately destroying your new drone.” In the piece, Gilbertson encourages first-time drone owners to avoid the desire to fly the drone within seconds after unwrapping it.

“If you’d prefer your first time flying a drone not to include close up shots of leaves and large amounts of cursing, we suggest taking a deep breath, slowing down, and doing a few things before your maiden flight. First and foremost, rip into that plastic bag holding the manual and pull it out. Then, actually read the thing. Seriously,” Gilbertson wrote.

He also said it’s important to precisely follow the startup procedure.

“Some drones need the controller turned on first, some the drone itself. Whatever the case with your model, make sure you know the sequence so that your drone can acquire satellites for GPS features and connect to whatever WiFi or flight control system it uses.”

Registration may be the biggest news from the end of 2015 regarding drones. Regulation has been debated for the past several months, and the FAA has now began requiring registration.

Jesse Hays, a photographer and drone pilot from Russellville, recently provided Talk Business & Politics some feedback related to his experience.

According to Davis, “It’s a $5 refundable fee for the first month that registration is open and they assign you an FAA number that is required to be written on drone. Not thrilled about it, but I did it.”

Have you registered your drone? I would love to hear about your experience and thoughts for a future Drone Notes article.