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Old 10-12-2012, 03:12 PM
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Where Are Drone Pilots Located?


In one of the threads on the morality of war and drone strikes, someone said that the drone pilots are in the U.S., even if the drones themselves are in Pakistan, or Afghanistan, or Yemen, or wherever, thousands of miles away.

Is this so? I'd have thought the pilots (or operators) would be much farther forward, so that the control signal wouldn't have to be relayed as many times. Where *are* the pilots (in broad terms; I don't need to know if they're in Kentucky rather than Iowa)?
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Old 10-12-2012, 03:14 PM
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Las Vegas is the location I have heard about most.
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Old 10-12-2012, 03:16 PM
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My niece's husband was a drone pilot for the Air Force, and he worked out of Nellis AFB in Las Vegas.
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Old 10-12-2012, 03:43 PM
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Balls. They're all over the world thinking they're playing Modern Warfare 3.
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Old 10-12-2012, 06:28 PM
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This wiki link suggests that the launch and recovery are taken care of by a team in the field, while the rest of the mission can be controlled more remotely. I'd suspect that for the majority of the flights, the drone is following a pre-programmed path and that the very remote "pilots" are there more for making decisions than manually flying the drone, so control delay issues aren't a major factor.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General..._MQ-1_Predator

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Currently, the U.S. Air Force uses a concept called "Remote-Split Operations" where the satellite datalink is located in a different location and is connected to the GCS through fiber optic cabling. This allows Predators to be launched and recovered by a small "Launch and Recovery Element" and then handed off to a "Mission Control Element" for the rest of the flight. This allows a smaller number of troops to be deployed to a forward location, and consolidates control of the different flights in one location.
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Old 10-12-2012, 06:31 PM
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Drone covers a lot of different models and different types of missions. How and where they are controlled also varies.
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Old 10-12-2012, 06:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shagnasty View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by FatBaldGuy View Post
My niece's husband was a drone pilot for the Air Force, and he worked out of Nellis AFB in Las Vegas.
And all others... Wow. Thank'ee! Knowledge sought, knowledge gained!
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Old 10-12-2012, 06:47 PM
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Why would this information not be classified, btw? How does it not paint a massive target on the city's head to make this public knowledge?
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Old 10-12-2012, 06:51 PM
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Interesting article about drone pilots.

Quote:
Colonel Brenton acknowledges the peculiar new disconnect of fighting a telewar with a joystick and a throttle from his padded seat in American suburbia.

When he was deployed in Iraq, “you land and there’s no more weapons on your F-16, people have an idea of what you were just involved with.” Now he steps out of a dark room of video screens, his adrenaline still surging after squeezing the trigger, and commutes home past fast-food restaurants and convenience stores to help with homework — but always alone with what he has done.

“It’s a strange feeling,” he said. “No one in my immediate environment is aware of anything that occurred.”
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Old 10-12-2012, 06:59 PM
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Originally Posted by Rachellelogram View Post
Why would this information not be classified, btw? How does it not paint a massive target on the city's head to make this public knowledge?
It's no more of a target than any military installation, yet the location of most military bases is common knowledge. They do tend to be quite well defended.
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Old 10-12-2012, 07:08 PM
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Your timing is impeccable. Last weekend I ran into a former student who is working as a drone pilot for a defense contractor. He just got back from a 12 month tour in the very rugged mountainous nation that you all probably suspect he was in. What he told me is that most of the USAF drone pilots, sensor operators, and mission specialists are stateside. Unlike the US DoD, the defense contractors don't operate an entire constellation of communication satellites. This means the contractors can't afford the satellite bandwidth to make instantaneous round-the-planet remote piloting practical. Instead, their pilots get sent round-the-planet and plopped in a corner of a large US military installation located close to the area of interest. FWIW, he said he was being paid better than any flying job he could hope to get over here, but he worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. I asked if that was tough, and he said there wasn't anything to do there anyways, so it kept him busy. He mentioned occasional mortar and rocket fire targeting the base he was on, but he seemed more concerned with the monotony of being stuck on the base that he was with the prospect of getting blown up.
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Old 10-12-2012, 11:44 PM
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My sister was a drone pilot in Iraq. I'm wondering now why she couldn't have done her job from Vegas instead.
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Old 10-13-2012, 12:20 AM
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Originally Posted by Tamex View Post
My sister was a drone pilot in Iraq. I'm wondering now why she couldn't have done her job from Vegas instead.
Because she was involved in launch and recovery? Or perhaps she was involved in less sophisticated drones that don't have the same remote flight abilities?
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Old 10-13-2012, 05:48 PM
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There is no 'instant' control of drones via fiber optic combined with satellite, just ask anyone on a satellite computer hook up.... Even the gobermint can't beat the speed of light. As long as you are firing from afar with sufficient time, Vegas works OK but if you need quick actual flight control inputs, to do terrain avoidance or a quick anything that requires Vegas to see it, then send an action, then determine any fine tuning of that control action, the drone is already toast.... Drones are just remote platforms for launching remote, or laser or smart munitions and really lousy at actual combat. Avoidance and reactive flight control would be mounted in / on the drone itself. The Vegas dudes & dudettes do not need video game wizards to do their job.

I could be totally wrong but until an actual operator chimes in & claims instant flight control with cites with some independent backup, I call BS.
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Old 10-13-2012, 06:02 PM
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Only one person has said "instantaneous," and several others have provided cites and anecdotes saying they're in Vegas, baby! Or near it.

And it may well be that for live-action combat flying, those missions go to people who have near line-of-sight to the drone.
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Old 10-13-2012, 07:17 PM
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Quote:
Where Are Drone Pilots Located?
In a hive, someplace?
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Old 10-13-2012, 07:34 PM
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When we toured the 'Boneyard' at Davis Monthan AFB in Tucson AZ, we were told that they had pilots there operating drones in Afghanistan.
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Old 10-13-2012, 09:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GusNSpot View Post
There is no 'instant' control of drones via fiber optic combined with satellite, just ask anyone on a satellite computer hook up.... Even the gobermint can't beat the speed of light. As long as you are firing from afar with sufficient time, Vegas works OK but if you need quick actual flight control inputs, to do terrain avoidance or a quick anything that requires Vegas to see it, then send an action, then determine any fine tuning of that control action, the drone is already toast.... Drones are just remote platforms for launching remote, or laser or smart munitions and really lousy at actual combat. Avoidance and reactive flight control would be mounted in / on the drone itself. The Vegas dudes & dudettes do not need video game wizards to do their job.

I could be totally wrong but until an actual operator chimes in & claims instant flight control with cites with some independent backup, I call BS.
IIRC you are a pilot so I respect your knowledge on that but I am not sure if you are thinking about it quite the right way. Operator control and general aircraft stability are really two separate issues. A sophisticated autopilot like drones have can make sure the plane stays in stable flight while still allowing operator decisions. It is really no different than fly-by-wire systems on fighter jets and airliners. The operator only tells the plane how fast, how high, and what direction it needs to go and the mechanics of how to do that are run controlled through the computers.

Drones aren't just fancy remote controlled planes. Those would crash quickly if they were run from thousands of miles away. However, once the onboard guidance ensures that the plane stays stable, there is still plenty of room for human decision like targeting and firing on that target. I don't believe there are any drones in Top Gun type combat right now so the slight time lag isn't an issue in carrying out their missions.
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Old 10-13-2012, 11:05 PM
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I agree that the 'operators' can be anyplace & I also agreed that they were just platforms of remote guided weapons.

I also agree that the on board stuff keeps them right side up.

That is the stuff that actually flys them while in the air. The operators do not stick & rudder at all as far as I have ever heard. they can left & right them with the on board stuff doing the actual flight controls. I just dislike calling the operators pilots because as far as I know they, for the most part are not.
Carry on, just ranting on a favorite subject. I just know that in many situations, if the pilot inputs are 2-4 seconds late, you do not have a usable airplane when near the ground so they let others launch & retrieve.

I have no idea how much the drones of that size & complexity can do for themselves, has to be a lot.

So to answer the OP's question on where the drone pilots are, they do not have one. It's just a very expensive video game. he he he
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Old 10-14-2012, 10:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GusNSpot View Post
I just know that in many situations, if the pilot inputs are 2-4 seconds late, you do not have a usable airplane when near the ground so they let others launch & retrieve.
It's only about 1/5th of a second to Geosync orbit and back, so I doubt there's even 1/2 of a second delay, even if they have to bounce it from one satellite to another before going back down.
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Old 10-14-2012, 12:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Cheshire Human View Post
It's only about 1/5th of a second to Geosync orbit and back, so I doubt there's even 1/2 of a second delay, even if they have to bounce it from one satellite to another before going back down.
True???

Drone camera streaming to satellite. 1

Assuming instant retransmit to antenna at Vegas. 2

The Pilot sees & mentally processes a problem requiring flight control input that the on board equipment is not taking care of. 3

( Requires a real pilot to recognize. )

He has real good reactions. 4

The signals are sent to the satellite. 5

Satellite send signals to the drone. 6

Why do all this with a pilot who has millions of $$$ in training & experience in machines that do not fly like any aircraft they have ever been in?

A talented gamer that will follow protocol can do the, " Yes, it is locked on target, do I have the proper 'engage authority?' Yes sir, I will push the red button." Then he says, "Which way should I point the deadly expensive toy now sir?"

Pictures I have seen show a joy stick & all control surfaces needed can be combined. So why do they not do the take off & recovery? Why do they need some one close?

Go out to the RC plane fields & see how many can not crash reliably enough that you will entrust a multimillion $$$ aircraft with real weapons on board to operate day & night without picking a good day to fly.

Call them pilots if you want but I prefer them not to be in control of anything I am in.

I am not really sold on the trams in big airports yet & they are on tracks with lots of anti-crash equipment & sensors.

We are in the infancy of this tech, not even to the "A" model yet & I got to be an old pilot by being very lucky & very good at what I do the few times I was forced into flying the "A" models of anything.

Your piloting skill may vary....

Chuck Yeager is the exception, not the rule.
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Old 10-14-2012, 12:43 PM
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If satellite delay is an important factor, it still wouldn't matter where the operator is located. They could use a fiber-optic link (via submarine cables) between the operator's base and the antenna that directly talks to the drone.

But my understanding is that most large drones like the Predator are controlled through a satellite signal (i.e. the drone uses a satellite relay to communicate to a ground station). So again, it doesn't matter where the operator is; even if he/she is 100 miles away from the drone, the signal bounces through a satellite.
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Old 10-15-2012, 02:25 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GusNSpot View Post
True???

Drone camera streaming to satellite. 1

Assuming instant retransmit to antenna at Vegas. 2
Yeah, not much time at all.

Quote:
The Pilot sees & mentally processes a problem requiring flight control input that the on board equipment is not taking care of. 3

( Requires a real pilot to recognize. )

He has real good reactions. 4
Same issue with a manned aircraft. No difference.

Quote:
The signals are sent to the satellite. 5

Satellite send signals to the drone. 6
And now we're back to the other half of "to Geosync and back". As I said, no more than 1/2 second difference between a pilot in the aircraft, and an idiot working a joystick in Arizona. I really don't see what you're on about....

Oh, wait. Here it is:

Quote:
Call them pilots if you want but I prefer them not to be in control of anything I am in.
Call 'em what you want. I doubt they care. They're not flying your airliner, nor are you required to surrender the controls of your general aviation craft to them. Lighten up, Francis.
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