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back to article Predator kill-machine pilots suffering 'chronic burnout'

A US military report says pilots operating the well-known Predator drone aircraft suffer far higher levels of mental stress than flyboys who are physically present aboard their planes. Staff Sergeant Lance Nettrouer puts foot to ass for his country Too much time staring at a screen, controller in hand, can impair domestic …

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Bronze badge

Latency and compression?

I wonder whether the latency introduced by satellite link and quality of video could be (partially) to blame. It must be frustrating not being able to immediately see what exactly are these things down there, as well as having to wait for plane reaction.

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Anonymous Coward

Or perhaps,

flying a remote drone just dosent give you the same thrill and rush as flying an F22 at Mach 3, so upsets your body and bores you.

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Anonymous Coward

I feel the need,

the need for... ZZzzzzzzzz........

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Paris Hilton

A man on the edge

I wonder if there will be a wave of Hollywood movies about burned-out remote-control pilot vets who go psycho when they get home. Like "First Blood", but with a remote-control pilot. He would return home, sit down in front of the X-Box, and flip out! Then he would go to the nearest computer games shop, and hold the people hostage with a Wii controller, or one of those posh flight simulator joysticks. I see box office.

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Black Helicopters

Bring on the gamers.

Perhaps they should just recruit a few hardcore gamers as predator-jockies instead? Feed them on pizza and max-caffeine cola for a few weeks and shut them in a darkened room, telling them that it's a LAN-party.

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Gold badge

Or pehaps,

knowing full well that the damned thing's perfectly capable of flying itself if you doze off removes most of the normal piloting incentives to stay awake and pay attention.

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Anonymous Coward

well duh...

I mean seriously... duh.

Being a real pilot is exciting,... there are g-forces... sensations of speed... life and death decisions made constantly where a wrong move can kill the pilot...

A drone pilot yawns in front of a desk where nothing happens other than on screen.

Maybe if they had the drone pilots in full body moving simulators it might help.

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Thumb Up

Double tendres

"Too much time staring at a screen, controller in hand, can impair domestic relationships."

Beautiful, just beautiful.

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Coat

@Bring on the Gamers

Yes, great plan, only 2 small problems....

1) You know that after two days they would be dogfighting each other and trying to see what happens when you crash the drone in to various objects on the map.

2) Unless they improve the responsiveness and video quality, so the gamers can see every pixel perfectly who is going to give up on flight simulator? I mean it clearly looks more realistic....

Mine's the one with the aerial sticking out the back...

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Silver badge

Harder that it looks?

Part of flying or driving or anything similar is the feedback you get from your actions. Perhaps if drone pilots were in simulators so that they could get tactile feedback to their control input rather than sitting at a screen having to do it all visually, they'd get less tired? I'm far better at driving a real car at speed than one on a PC screen because I can feel how well it's handling on bends.

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Dead Vulture

Pizza eating murder monkeys

It sounds like macho pilots don't make the best desk jockeys. They need to get the gaming nerds involved. They're already trying it with the army (www.americasarmy.com) - why not bash together a Predator simulator and let the next generation of death geeks recruit themselves?

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Black Helicopters

night flight

Well, there's also the issue that Bagdhad time is about 12 hours off Las Vegas time, so roboflyers are all working in the middle of the night. That'll disrupt your domestic relationships big time unless your wife is a vampire.

It's the perfect recipe for stress. Probably should add that the airbase is probably a very dry toilet of a place, and that your pay probably sucks since you aren't in combat. How many things should you pile up on top of these poor schmucks before expecting them to suffer stress?

Black helicopters, because you don't have a tanks & guns icon.

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Boffin

@Bring on the Gamers

isn't that roughly the plot premise behind the Robin Williams film Toys, albeit without the cutely kooky robotised sister.

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Silver badge

MkUltra Sensitised Manchurians for Virtually Real ProjectIOn

Seems like a job for the truly Psychotic/XXXXStreamly NeuRonic, for is it no different from, and in Dire Straits need, of NIRobotIQs/NIRobotICQs ..... aka Network InterNetworking RobotIQs? A whole new Virtual Machine Mindset into Total Information Awareness Controls

amfM would posit that the Pleasures of Vegas would be a Healthy Challenge to Give an Added Edge to ITs CodeXXXX Jockeys/Drone MasterPilots/C++++Lone Aces.

Take Care though, IT is AI Field which can drive the unprepared QuITe Mad and Bad.

http://comments.theregister.co.uk/2008/04/16/predator_pilot_fatigue_study/

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Anonymous Coward

Simulator...

"Why not bash together a Predator simulator and let the next generation of death geeks recruit themselves?"

Why not bash together the sim and then hand out the missions to the players online. No need to recruit them or pay them. You can select the best by how well they do on the game, even graduating them to "instanced missions" where they get (unknown to them) to fly real drones over real terrain... So much cheaper. After all it's the pilot training that's expensive, not the drone. That's why UAV are so popular, right?

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Black Helicopters

Supervision

I'd be willing to bet that at least some of the problem is due to the fact that drone pilots can have their supervisors sitting over their shoulder, second-guessing everything they do like a backseat driver from hell.

Real pilots out in the field experience this a little bit, as they are given less and less leeway to make decisions by those on the ground these days, but it has to be even worse when your boss is right behind you nattering on about staying low enough to get a good view but too high for small arms fire and can you zoom in on that truck please no that truck no the other one oh that wasn't a truck at all.. etc. I know that'd wear *me* out fast.

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Stop

Rubbish set up

No wonder, look how badly positioned that joy stick is... its a health and saftey nightmare!

I've been looking at pics on other website, and they sit miles away from their monitors etc. Must be really annoying and draining trying to work in that environment.

They should get some gamers like me to help set up their desks properly... 4x22" LCD monitors, Espresso machine etc

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@Bring on the Gamers

Enders Game - great book similar plot.

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Dave's got it sussed, I think

Predator is effectively simulator flying; it's missing a lot of common cues that these pilots are normally expecting to feel instead of having to actively seek for in their displays.

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Black Helicopters

re: Simulator...

There was a cartoon thing in Wired a few years back which was vaguely like this idea (well, except they had spider-camera-bot things instead of Airborne Death Machines) - random punters signed up for controlling the spider bots and used them to film a UN weapons inspection team in Iraq. Looked like fun, but not as much fun as having a plane with armed missiles to fly around heavily populated areas with. I absolutely can't see why giving the average gamer control of one of these bots would be a bad idea at all ;).

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This makes perfect sense

I am a pilot who spent a fair amount of time using MS Flight Simulator before I flew IRL. When I go back and use FS now I find it very tiring because my mind is used to getting a great deal of input about the entirety of my situation via my eyes, ears and body. In a remote piloting situation the controller's mind is trying to render the world he cannot see through the screen. This is no different than asking a computer to display a static graphic vs create it on the fly. It simply takes more processing power to do the latter and given the fact that these guys have destructive force at their command their psyche will demand of them that they know everything they can to ensure things go right.

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Tim

It's not the lack of G-Force

The reason they're so "sleepy" is from boredom knowing they don't actually have to do anything. The aircraft flys itself. They've taken people from a job where they have to take important life or death choices while flying and sat them infront of a screen where they can get up and take a wizz without any trouble. I'm sure you'd measure the same levels of sleepyness if you took a London Stockbroaker and put him in charge of running a village fates tombola.

Put someone incharge who's job is to plan logistics and has passed the basic tests to fly, and they'd find it exciting.

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Sensory Deprivation

You mean riding a desk all day staring at a screen is boring? Who would have guessed!

Somebody needs to... <snore>

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Black Helicopters

Bring the Gamers on...

...there's a certain logic it getting gamers involved, but you know it's going to disintegrating into an Angry-German-Kid screaming match.

"Fuckin n00b lagger, I fuckin shot u, y don't u just die b1tch?? I pwnd ur ass!! Check my l33t haX0r skillz" ad infinitum...

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Alternatively...

Real pilots get to look out of the window, see the countryside, get the wind in their hair, generally watch the world go by. They can also engage in the Top Gun form of blue sky thinking - (I presume) virtually strafing sheep, engaging warp drive, reaching for the stars, imagining doing the Cobra in a Su-27, etc. i.e. putting their brains in neutral for some of the time.

You can't do any of that piloting a drone. No wonder those guys are knackered when all they have to play with is their joysticks, and their brains end up in neutral all the time.

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Coat

n00bs !!

Duh ! Everyone knows that the 2 most essential bits of equipment for the joystick geeks is missing from this scenario .....

A splash proof keyboard and a freshly opened box of Kleenex Man Size close to hand should do the trick !!!

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No Go-juice?

Just guessing, but I suspect the real flyboys enjoy a much higher adrenaline level than do their ground-bound counterparts. The possibility of imminent death tends to keep one's interest up.

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I have to say...

I'd be pretty pissed if I thought I was going to get to fly a real aircraft, sit in the cockpit and feel the thrust of the engines, the g-force of combat flying etc. I was going to be a fighter-jock and have women throwing themselves at me, a fast car, sexy flying jacket and spend the next decade bathing in the respect of everyone I met (nearly) and playing with the coolest toys on the planet.

Then some git decides that I'm actually going to spend my career "flying" a blip on a radar screen to take inane pictures of buildings. To add insult to injury they tell me that A) I have to do this on a remote airforce base B) I need to work silly hours and C) my pay will be a fraction of what I expected as i'm not actually "in combat". How do they select these people? are they rejects from flight school, or pilots who are too old, too injured or whatever to fly real jets? Do people voulenteer? Or is it just a question of "We need 20 new pilots from basic training to join the predator programme" (as opposed to the "F22 Programme" or "A10 Programme etc) and some poor saps just get picked at random to have their jet taken away, and replaced with a predator?

Can't blame them for being pissed, really. I wonder if they ever get to actually see "their" aircraft?

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Pirate

Okay....fine......

I was in the US Army in the 80s when we had ammunition, fuel and parts shortages. One of the solutions to the ammo problem was to introduce firing range simulators. One was a somewhat large-ish electro-mechanical unit similar to a pinball machine (God I'm old!) and the other was based on the venerable N64....kind of like the old Duck Hunt with human silhouettes. We've been trying to automate training/combat for decades. As always, we have to wait for the next generation of soldiers to come up for the tech to be refined and made effective. Sad, but that's the way it is.

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Joke

so they're bored?

Just get 'em coked up! Vegas is just next door, how hard can it be to source Bolivia's finest?!

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Flame

so it this for real or another fraud story?

is this a real issue or did our LP fall for yet another "repurposed" (a.k.a. propaganda) story like last time he went on an anti-robot ramapge?:

http://www.popularmechanics.com/blogs/technology_news/4258963.html

Good thing he was EOD instead of recon. Failure to actually eyeball a position and instead rely on the "good" intentions of some other source-dangerous in military ops and stupid in media.

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Paris Hilton

No surprise here -

Being tied to a screen for hours - especially having to monitor things closely will become very tiring. Plus add the stress that you are "flying a plane" AND looking for bad guys (or avoiding detection) and you've got one hell of an "office job".

On the other hand -- real pilots (and flight crews) are out in the real world doing a job they love (typically). Their "work day" is much more interactive etc.

Sounds like drone pilots need regular breaks in an outside / refreshing / stimulating environment

Paris cuz these boys need something different

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Coat

Latent See AbiliTY - a Uniform thing

+++By Bronek Kozicki

Posted Wednesday 16th April 2008 14:11 GMT

I wonder whether the latency introduced by satellite link and quality of video could be (partially) to blame. It must be frustrating not being able to immediately see what exactly are these things down there, as well as having to wait for plane reaction.

+++

XXXXcellent point, Bronek Kozicki. When information is scarce, it takes more Intelligence to make sense of IT. Some Gamers go mad if they don't get 60Hz FPS and go to great lengths to ensure their Rig is upto IT. Frustration indDeed....

I went to a boat show once with my girlfriend. There was a rescue dog there who looked harrowed. I asked here why the dog was upset (after all, it was just lying down). She said "It thinks it's been on duty all day". I said what do you mean? "That reflective coat the dog's wearing makes it think it's on duty still." The handler doesn't realise you should remove it from the dog sometimes and let the dog run around without it for a few minutes, as a break."

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Alien

Perhaps

Perhaps these idiots and incompetent senior officers who run this centre should read up on a few old SAC classified reports on aircrew fatigue commissioned not long after the Palomares mid air collision and Thule Air Base incidents way back in the sixties , it will give them the correct direction to look for a cure !

There is a cure , but sadly it is well beyond the lateral thinking of idiots programmed to think literally by the book to treat all staff as robots to maximise man hours and minimise staff in all business mismanagement courses at all advanced seats of learning(students are either to stupid and swallow this brainwashing B***s***, forget or are not allowed to ask the cutting question "why are you teaching this B***s*** when you could be earning far more in the commercial world then a teachers pathetic income ? And the answer is obvious because it is basically s*** and does not work in the real world !)"

Unfortunately the fatigue syndrome that they suffer from appears to be not all that different to that which a majority of call centre workers for Banks and most other institutions must endure on a regular daily basis too !

Those that fail to learn the lessons in history are but doomed to repeat the same failures in an endless stupid circle for eternity !

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RE:This makes perfect sense

Yes, a good point well made.

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@Bring on the gamers

Yeah, they could get NASA to stick an arcade game on an alien world, and whoever gets top score could come fly a Predator. No wait, that's not right...

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Black Helicopters

@amanfromMars

Don't start talking that MkUltra Manchurian shit or you'll get the choppers on us. Game AI would be a good idea here that and less time at the screen.

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Unhappy

It must suck to be stationed there

If these guys are real flight qualified pilots, I doubt this is a career enhancing place to have on your military record. Secondly, do they get combat pay? Combine this with the relatively unstimulating environment and no wonder this place sucks. It is looserville in the USAF.

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Paris Hilton

It is just like....

playing computer games all day. Every day. And you can't quite get to the last level, and you just missed the timing on that last jump. So you throw the joystick at the wall.

Whoa boy. Just hold on, that's a $10m aircraft you have there.

Combat is sometimes described at 5 months of complete boredom punctuated by 5 minutes of complete hell. Of course these boys are tired it's all stress and no feedback.

Paris? The boys just got to have a pin up.

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Aren't we overlooking the obvious?

The predator pilots probably aren't munching down amphetamine pills like their counterparts in Iraq/Afghanistan.

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Heart

@Tanuki: Thriller introducing such a scenario...

Tanuki, about 10 years ago (possibly more), I began work on a thriller / short story entitled "The Innocent Warriors" whereby young video gamers were unwhittingly plugged into 'the net' and used to fight remote wars via robot aircraft and ground vehicles etc. Maybe I should wrap it up and publish it? wazzupalex A T gmail D O T com

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Black Helicopters

Nevada Blues

The spouses are either kicking their heels in Vegas, or are somewhere else completely. Either situation would be stressful, on a non-coms salary.

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Boffin

nail the head on the hit - rearrange....

@ Bronek Kozicki & Matthew Speed

two very sensible and rational comments I suspect that in reality both of these come into play, and the latency makes the virtual visualisation even harder.. lets see a real pilot fly with a laggy stick and laggy display glasses... I bet he gets stressed more stressed then!

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Boffin

Sense Fatigue.

Using only your eyes and minimally your ears, in comparison to a real pilot, will strain those senses and thus could fatigue you far quicker than if you're in a real plane, using all your senses.

Spacial awareness while in a real plane is instinct, but a video screen and a few instruments requires a little more thinking.

Perhaps also the detatchement from the vehicle and from the enviroment you're launching weapons into could cause your mind to think a lot more about the consequences of your actions. Less information leads to a greater range of imaginable scenarios you'd have to consider before you're confident it's right to press fire.

I find it funny however that they may need to train more pilots to fly their drones than they would have had to train to fly manned aircraft.

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Health

Quickly scanned the article, passing note. But belong confined into a military like room with heaps of electronic equipments emitting electro magnetic fields, vapor fumes, heat and producing positive ions, doing a stressful job with little physical activity is prone to make people exhausted, stressed and fatigued (not to mention diets of junk/fast foods crunchie chocolate bars and coke, instead of low burn physical fitness/mental alertness diets of veggies salad and some meat, with moderate dousings of carbs). These people are doing stressful jobs like air traffic controllers, and should be given similar breaks and pay.

So, give them fresh air, install a negative ion generator and active carbon filter, give them good diets and exercise, and pout them on Aircraft controller like work loads and pay.

Wayne Morellini

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