'It's Not Just A Remote Controlled Plane'
While the glamour of piloting a UAV may not match that of flying
F-15 Eagles or F-16 Fighting Falcons, a group of enlisted airmen at
Ali Base, Iraq are using their wings to perform much the same tasks
as those flying the heavier equipment -- providing security,
through air superiority.
The half-dozen members of the 407th Expeditionary Security
Forces Squadron pilot tiny unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles
that provide low-cost, low-risk video of any terrain over which
they fly. To these force protection airborne surveillance system
team “cop-pilots,” flying the MQ-1 Predator’s
“Mini Me” counterpart is no hobby.
"This isn’t what people think it is. It isn’t a toy
and it’s not just a remote controlled plane," said Senior
Airman Shawn Fernandez, a team pilot.
The tiny UAVs transmit real-time data -- day or night -- to a
ground-based operator (the pilot) for analysis and risk assessment.
The second operator (the copilot) does the pre-launch checks and
provides launch assistance.
The UAV operators are called pilots and copilots in part because
of shared responsibilities they have with traditional flyers. Just
like a manned flight, UAV pilots and copilots have to notify the
air control tower about their location, get clearance to launch and
check the flying weather forecast before a mission.
The teams can cover a lot of ground with their UAVs -- and using
them costs less, and is less risky, than using manned ground
A portable computer controls the UAVs flight controls and flight
paths until the pilot spots trouble and switches to "U-drive" --
taking control from the computer. How long the UAV is in the air
depends on the assigned flight path and environmental
"This is a really great system," team member Senior Airman JoAnn
Bonzi said. "It allows us to cover a lot of territory that would be
hard, if not impossible, to keep an eye on properly any other
The UAV is almost silent as it goes about its business. And like
a U-2 reconnaissance aircraft flying many thousands of feet higher,
this mini-UAV’s imagery allows a trained operator to spot any
kind of potentially aggressive situations, setups or enemy.
"Every [Airman] here plays a part in base defense -- especially
security forces. This is just one part of it. But it’s a
great part to be involved in," said Airman 1st Class Eric Vaughn,
another team member.
Staff Sgt. Chenoa Abbott is the noncommissioned officer in
charge of the FPASS team. She said flying the UAVs is "really a
different role for a person from security forces to take on."
"It has really opened my eyes and given me a chance to see what
the skies of the Air Force are really like," she added.
(Aero-News salutes Tech. Sgt. Paul Dean, 407th Air
Expeditionary Group public affairs)