The Human in the Loop

According to an Aug. 25 Associated Press news report picked up by media around the country, an Air Force lieutenant colonel has pegged operator mistakes as the central factor in a “growing number of Predator [unmanned aerial vehicle] mishaps in recent years.” Lt. Col. Robert Herz told AP in an e-mail, “The Air Force has increased the sheer volume of pilots put through the training pipeline and shipped them off to war with the bare minimum training required.” According to Herz, who researched the subject for a PhD dissertation, 71 percent of MQ-1 Predator UAV accidents over 2003 to 2006 were due to “human error factors,” reports AP, which states that seven Predators have crashed this year in combat zones. Air Force UAVs are flown from locations in the US for the mission portion of their sorties, while airmen deployed to combat arenas fly the aircraft for launch and recovery, both using remote-control consoles. The Air Force is aware that its UAV force is stretched, with operators (both officer and enlisted) now facing longer and ever-more taxing tours, as an earlier report from the Naval Post-Graduate School indicated, and has instituted an incentive pay to ease the pain. It has ramped up training, pushing through as many pilots as it can to feed the increasing demand in Afghanistan and Iraq.