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back to article RAF graduates first class of new groundbased 'pilots'

The Royal Air Force is chuffed this week to announce the graduation of its first class of "remotely piloted air system pilots", who have the job of piloting aircraft they are not actually in. 'Differ only slightly' from the normal ones. Visually, anyway As regular readers of these pages will know, the RAF (with some …

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Anonymous Coward

Make of it what you will

In the US non commissioned officers are found flying aircraft, they are very much a more equal opportunities employer where anyone who shows the necessary aptitude and skill can do tasks that the RAF reserve for Officers.

During the WW2 they ran out of Officer Pilots and employed many Sergeant Pilots to fly aircraft from Lancasters to Spitfires. They never got the recognition as the RAF propaganda machines during thee war always favoured the Officer Pilots. The top scoring UK fighter pilot was in fact a Sergeat pilot.

As soon as the war was over, the Sergeant pilot in the RAF disappeared again and the role again was given to those with the 'right education and background'. It became very socially elitist, though now in this day and age to a lesser extent.

Both Royals, William and Harry in normal circumstances would never have even got an interview to fly helicopters because they do not have the educational requirements. Instead they got to fly because of their Royal connections. Note that at this time they do not command the aircraft. Their Uncle Andrew did fly in the Falklands but he too did not have the educational qualifications to even get an interview.

I did fly with a former Apache helicopter pilot in the US, he considered his background as Trailer Trash, joined the US Army, during induction they saw he had ability (though he didn't join to fly) and he became a pilot. Great guy.

In the UK this would not have happened.

Front line pilots are also annoyed that Reaper pilots have been getting awards for bravery whole being able to go home to dinner each day. Make of that what you will.

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Re: Make of it what you will

"Front line pilots are also annoyed that Reaper pilots have been getting awards for bravery whole being able to go home to dinner each day. Make of that what you will."

Gongs for bravery shouldn't apply IMHO. I've nothing against gongs for RC pilots who do something of special significance, but to give them a "bravery" award cheapens the whole thing for those who are genuinely risking life and limb. If no such suitable award exists already, then create a specific medal for RC pilots, for whom the biggest physical risk is no more than DVT or piles.

I have nothing against what these guys (and gals, presumably) are doing, but I think it's wrong to bracket them too closely to the physical front-line troops

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WTF?

Re: Make of it what you will

Kind of on par with the Yanks receiving a medal for flying over a "war zone" - particularly when that war \one was Northern Ireland......

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Make of it what you will

Royal connections may well have helped but the idea that those two lack the educational qualifications is a load of rubbish. The RAF will take you on as a pilot officer with 2 A-levels. William, currently in the RAF has a degree. Harry has a couple of A levels flies with the Army where, as the article clearly states JNCOs fly often without any qualifications at all.

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Re: Make of it what you will

"In the US non commissioned officers are found flying aircraft, they are very much a more equal opportunities employer where anyone who shows the necessary aptitude and skill can do tasks that the RAF reserve for Officers."

Although if Apache Dawn is to be believed, their Apache crews are much less of an equals opportunity team ("Shut up, you're just a gunner") compared to the British Army crew relationship.

Seemed a bit of a culture shock to the British Crew who swapped Commander title halfway through the deployment to give the newer crew member command experience!

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Re: Make of it what you will

Presumably the problem is that most medals of merit tend to be tied into medals of bravery - because meritorious military service traditionally means you did something brave/stupid in the face of adversity.

It may be that there needs to be a fork with the introduction of new medals (generally) for merit, separated from medals for bravery. At the moment, the awarding committees often don't have quite the right thing to give, so end up having to bundle in meritorious UAV pilots in with ground soldiers who did something exceptionally brave.

Although UAVs seem to be the hot topic now, no doubt somewhere along the line the Army will find themselves up against similar issues with remote controlled ground vehicles.

If someone does their job exceptionally well, or successfully provides close air support in a difficult scenario and saves lives, then they deserve to be recognised for their skill (and the troops on the ground don't give a rats ass if there's a pilot in the aircraft or not so long as air cover arrives and does it's job). It's just at the moment the medals for merit also get given out for bravery, which seems a bit of an oversight when one considers it.

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Re: Make of it what you will

"Presumably the problem is that most medals of merit tend to be tied into medals of bravery - because meritorious military service traditionally means you did something brave/stupid in the face of adversity."

Not strictly true - there are medals such as the Meritorious Service Medal (and even the LSGC medal) but you could argue that those are awarded for not doing something bad, as opposed to doing something especially good. Stick with it, get your full 20-odd years in, don;t go AWOL, don't start any fights in the NAAFI, don't pass secret information to Wikileaks, etc. etc.

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Long Service & Good Conduct Medal...

AKA the 15 years undetected medal...

I has one...

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Boffin

Re: Mostly_Harmless Re: Make of it what you will

"Gongs for bravery shouldn't apply IMHO....." True, they share none of the physical risks. But gongs are not just awarded for bravery, they are often also awarded for exemplary service or leadership or achieving a very difficult battle task.

In general, the argument for RAF officer pilots is the hammer versus the spear argument. The Army (and Navy) operate in such a way that a large percentage of their men of all ranks face action together. In a battleship you will have men of all ranks facing equal dangers together, just as in an Army deployed to a battlefield there are risks for soldiers be they privates right up to generals (though probably less for generals). Both present a broad hammer. The RAF is very much like a pyramid - even in the days of WW2, over 300 men may have supported, serviced and supplied each aircraft that may have a crew of just one that actually goes up and takes all the risks. That is a very sharp spearpoint. Since it has always been a very technical role it has always required a more educated person in the cockpit (and traditionally that meant a uni grad, which also historically meant the upper class), and since it is a role in high popularity the RAF has been able to pick and choose only the highest level of applicant. Attracting and retaining uni grads of the right calibre means paying them a suitable starter wage, which means they have to be on the officer scale. Whilst it has been shown in times of war that the criteria can be lowered with excellent results, that sergeants can do the task of following officers into battle (they rarely led), peacetime meant a reduction in the size of the spearpoint so again the RAF could be choosier.

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Re: Make of it what you will

"..... The top scoring UK fighter pilot was in fact a Sergeat pilot......" The highest scoring Commonwealth pilot of WW2 was South African Squadron Leader Marmaduke Thomas St. John "Pat" Pattle DFC & Bar, not a sergeant. The highest scoring British RAF pilot was Johnnie Johnson, who was promoted from Reserve Sergeant to Pilot Officer upon completing his training and before he started flying (in 1939 all new RAFVR pilots were Sergeant Pilots). I'm guessing you're actually getting confused over Eric Lock, the RAF's highest scorer in the Battle of Britain, who (like Johnson) joined as an RAFVR Sergeant Pilot and was also promoted to Pilot Officer before seeing combat, but is still listed as a Sergeant Pilot in many websites. Sorry, guess you'll just have to rethink all those class-war myths.

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Re: Make of it what you will

'In the US non commissioned officers are found flying aircraft, they are very much a more equal opportunities employer where anyone who shows the necessary aptitude and skill can do tasks that the RAF reserve for Officers.'

Would that be the US Army that employ non-commissioned officers to fly their aircraft? In the same way the British Army do? In the same way the British Army have 'trailer trash' operating Apache? Oh that's right, it is.

Certainly the US Air Force and Navy don't have non-commissioned aircrew.

Meanwhile in the other UK services it's possible for people to enter the ranks and then if they show the aptitude to fly become commissioned.

You'll also find Prince William is qualified to be Aircraft Commander, there was even an article in the papers about it when he qualified. Not sure about Harry, but as it normally happens after a certain amount of front line flying he may not have achieved the minimums yet.

So most of your post was bollocks, but don't let that get in the way of the chip you appear to have on your shoulder.

Reasons why the other services only allow direct entrant aircrew to be officers? Possibly because traditionally they've operated platforms with a more complex mission profile, i.e. rather than fly here, pick some people up, fly there, it's been launch, search for bad people without being found, assess the situation, act accordingly. You don't have to be an officer to have the required abilities, but you're more likely to find them in those who pass officer selection. Certainly the British Army had issues getting enough people to pass Apache training initially as it was a much more complex aircraft and mission profile than they'd been used to and they hadn't altered their selection profile, which takes people with lower aptitude scores than the other two services.

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Re: Matt Bryant and others

During the 39-45 war the RAF was an abattoir for combat aircrew,. and they knew it. The problem was to get the meat through while maintaining the intake of volunteers. Those men were heroes like no other.

Most combat crew had no more qualification than Matriculation, got at sixteen. None of the normal degree courses added a desirable skill. School maths and science was all that was required, and if a candidate did not possess the required details that could quickly be taught.

And for any bomber station ground crew was comparable in numbers to to aircrew. Sometimes they had more people in the air than on the ground. Fighters required a bit more work to keep them up.

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Re: Make of it what you will

My father was a sergeant pilot during the war, Warrant Officer, flying Sunderlands (sea planes). Never promoted to officer, though that may have been because he had a bit of an attitude.

In my youth I applied to go into the RAF as an officer though not as a pilot (FAR too short, & there were very few women pilots back then at the very start of the 80's) & got right to the last stage - failed the final medical as borderline - and I didn't even have A-levels. So suggestions that you can't become an officer in the RAF without a degree surprise me as I very nearly did, & I know some people in my group who did get through certainly couldn't have degrees as they were only 19/20 as I was at the time.

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Re: Alan Firminger Re: Matt Bryant and others

Whilst you seem to have a vague knowledge of the matter you're mainly talking male genetalia.

".....Those men were heroes like no other....." Relax, stop flexing the class chip on your shoulder and realise no-one is denying that the "common" aircrew, especially the bomber crews, were heroic.

".....Most combat crew had no more qualification than Matriculation, got at sixteen....." You are thinking of general aircrew like gunners when what we are discussing is pilots. Especially single-seater pilots, who had to be their own WOP, navigator and pilot, whereas the bomber had a man for each job. Big difference in role and requirement.

"..... None of the normal degree courses added a desirable skill....." Correct, but it was more to do with showing the intellectual capability of the applicant. As a pilot trainee, before you got to do flight training you had to do ground training which included a lot of technical work on theory of flight, aeronautics and mechanics - you washed out if you did not pass that stage. That has not changed, indeed the increase in complexity of systems means the role has become even more technical and therefore the requirement for a certain level of intellectual capability even more pronounced.

"....And for any bomber station ground crew was comparable in numbers to to aircrew...." Sorry, but that is just wrong. For a start, a Squadron Leader would typically have responsibility for 300 people all in, whether a fighter or bomber unit, but that does not include the other support staff on the base such as flight control, RAF Regiment and AA crews, and does not consider the supply chain sitting off-base that kept the spares, POL, new airframes and replacement aircrew rolling in. Even then, his actual aircrew would be closer to 80-100 men even on a four-engined bomber unit (and only 24 on a single-seat fighter unit), not even half of the 300 under his direct command.

".....Fighters required a bit more work to keep them up." That statement is simply illogical. Please explain how a four-engine bomber with more complex radio, radar and navigation systems could require less maintenance than a single-engined fighter? Even if we compare the typical RAF fighter unit with a full complement of 20 Spitfires, that's only twenty Merlins to service, whereas a Lancaster unti with a complement of twelve Lancasters had 48 Merlins! Then consider that the Spit only requires oxygen for one and fuel for a short flight, whereas each Lanc needs oxygen for seven for a much longer flight, plus much, much, much more fuel, all of which needs to be provisioned, stored and delivered. And that's even before we get round to looking at the supply, storage and fitting of the bombload carried by the Lancasters! Sorry, simply does not add up.

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Re: Matt Bryant and others

Re:

" RAF was an abattoir for combat aircrew,...." The very same for the U.S. 8th Air Force.

"Abattoir" is an excellent word. "Getting the meat through..." very, very appropriate.

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Mushroom

"...required for safe and effective weapons delivery." - RAF

Is that:

a) management drivel;

b) another military oxymoron;

c) something Parcelforce should be doing.

Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

Icon: natch.

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Pint

Re: "...required for safe and effective weapons delivery." - RAF

I'll go with b) since I can't imagine any effective weapon being safe for the person it's delivered to

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Re: "...required for safe and effective weapons delivery." - RAF

So they just drop a leaflet saying:

"We tried to bomb your country but you were out - please contact the RAF to arrange a re-bombing"

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Re: "...required for safe and effective weapons delivery." - RAF

Greetings ,

Early in WW2 the RAF was very civilised and did not bomb Civilians as it was consided by the Planners to be important to behave as Gentlemen.

Lots of bits of Paper were thrown out over Germany telling them to be sensible and surrender.

Things changed quite a bit after the Hun did the Blitz on Britain. He had done similar things to Civilians in Spain,Holland , Yugoslavia and Poland before that.

The Americans don't bomb Civilians ,they just do Colateral Damage instead.

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Boffin

Re: elderlybloke Re: "...required for safe and effective weapons delivery." - RAF

"Early in WW2 the RAF was very civilised and did not bomb Civilians as it was consided by the Planners to be important to behave as Gentlemen....." Well, yes and no. There was a general order not to bomb German territory but that was more due to the worry of massive reprisals from the Luftwaffe. In the pre-war years the RAF had been quite happy to bomb civilians in the Empire, but Goebels had done such a good job on the propaganda front the British government were convinced Hitler could flatten all the cities in the UK with ease, and the government were worried that the popular will to resist would crumble. This was partly the result of the mantra that "the bomber will always get through" so over-used by the RAF to allow them to build up their own bomber force between the Wars. In the event, Fighter Command's advanced warning and control system ensured the German bombers did not always get through, and the Blitz showed the plucky common Brit's resolve turned out to be quite substantial.

"....Things changed quite a bit after the Hun did the Blitz on Britain...." Erm, not quite. The Jerrys had already dropped a number of bombs on British cities, particularly in individual night raids, but it was the (possibly accidental) dumping of bombs by a Luftwaffe crew over London that Churchill seized on to mount a deliberate retaliatory raid on Berlin. So in the case of the RAF vs the Luftwaffe, it was actually the British that made the first PLANNED mass Bombing raid on the German capital. Hitler's reaction - pushing Goering into mass daylight raids on London - ensured their defeat in the Battle of Britain. Attacking British cities was always in Goering's plan (as it had been in Spain, Poland and Holland before, but Yugoslavia came AFTER the start of the Blitz), but it was supposed to come after he had eliminated Fighter Command, and he shifted attention to London too early. Of course, once the cycle of nightly raids had been started by both sides, Britain's superior strategic bomber force and the course of the War ensured that the Germans suffered far heavier bombing than we took from them.

".....The Americans don't bomb Civilians ,they just do Colateral Damage instead." Actually they do, and in wartime it is quite legal as you are striking at the support and manufacturing system of your enemy. In essence, Mrs Jihadi giving food and shelter to Mr Jihadi and Son in his compound is a legitimate target as long as he is the primary target. The Americans would prefer not to kill Mrs Jihadi, but then her death does send a message. The Americans would also rather catch Mr Jihadi alive for interrogation, but they'll settle for dropping a bomb on him if there is no realistic chance of a successful capture mission.

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Joined up thinking at its best

The RAF's pilots who don't fly will be a perfect match for the Royal Navy's carriers without any aircraft.

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Joke

Potential problem for the Mod Plod here..

If failed officer recruits in the RAF and the Navy are offered an alternative employment stream where will the Ministry of Defence Police, aka Mod plod, get their staff?

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Anonymous Coward

next step - outsourcing

to India or China, or ex-Burma (so fashionable in certain circles nowadays).

...

nah, scrap that, let's go for crowdsourcing!

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Joke

Re: next step - outsourcing

Hmmm crowd sourced target selection for a drone could be an interesting proposition....

10,000,000 people seem to think that a particular house in central London (Black door with No 10 on it) is a prime target.

ok it would cost a lot to set up the first CSGD (Crowd Sourced Government Drone) but it would streamline the removal of members who insist on the most unpopular policies, but over time I am sure that savings could be made from reduced pension payouts

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Anonymous Coward

Re: next step - outsourcing

Kickstarter?

Anon, well because...

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WTF?

Re: next step - outsourcing

Where does your 10,000,000 come from?

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Re: next step - outsourcing

thin air... just like a lot of the figures quoted from that address

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Headmaster

Re: next step - outsourcing

Wouldn't that be Number 11?

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Mushroom

@Derezed Re: next step - outsourcing

Two words: area bombing...

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Landings and takeoffs are controlled from within the theatre of operations

I would have thought that a maneuver like a landing or a take off would be ripe for automation.

Is there a technical reason why the pilot has to do it manually?

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Re: Landings and takeoffs are controlled from within the theatre of operations

Tradition and fear "its too hard for a machine and i am king of the air no machine can replace me"

Also a rougth forward airstrip might not have ILS and all the other things that make auto pilot landings so easy (no doubt the big ones in afghanistan do though)

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Re: Landings and takeoffs are controlled from within the theatre of operations

"I would have thought that a maneuver like a landing or a take off would be ripe for automation."

Well, "controlled" can mean a variety of things. I recall some coverage of this (Reg, 29 August 2009 according to Google) wherin it was stated that the US Army drones had far fewer landing and take off prangs than the USAF primarily because the (eminently sensible) Army types let the machine do the take off and landing, wheras the cocksure USAF always tried to take off and land the drone themselves. Over and above that, looking at the paper below, USAF are consistently worse than the other services in almost all categories of accident causation, including unsafe supervision, unsafe practices, and organisational influences.

There's a more scholarly analysis here:

http://www.colorado.edu/ASEN/asen5519_arg/papers/TVARYANA.pdf

I wonder how the RAF will deal with this? With the "officer" trainign of drone jockeys, it seems they're following worst (USAF) practice, rather than US Army.

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Re: Landings and takeoffs are controlled from within the theatre of operations

"Also a rougth forward airstrip might not have ILS "

To be fair, the smaller drones launched by forward operations probably don't have access to any form of airstrip, being launched more or less by hand, and parachuting or gliding on to whatever is the local terrain. In that respect the drone launch and landing would certainly be controlled in theatre, although the terms "controlled" and "landing" may be rather euphemtistic.

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Re: Landings and takeoffs are controlled from within the theatre of operations

Oddly sometimes the drones manage to **** up automatic landings so it's not a fool proof solution...

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/service-inquiry-investigating-the-accident-involving-unmanned-air-system-uas-hermes-450-zk515-on-02-oct-11

Note the SI linked also indicates you can't just give drones to the Army and expect it all to work out fine.

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Is there a technical reason why the pilot has to do it manually?

It may not be necessary but you do also want to practice for occasions when the ILS or other automatic system aren't working/available and it is necessary. Unless you're happy parking drones randomly into the countryside after they've run out of fuel waiting for it to be fixed.

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Re: Is there a technical reason why the pilot has to do it manually?

"It may not be necessary but you do also want to practice for occasions when the ILS or other automatic system aren't working/available "

I wouldn't dispute that, but even with manned aircraft the majority of accidents are landing or taking off. So I agree it makes sense to train the drone pilots to do manual operations, but I'd argue that operational practice should use automation where possible. A further observation is that given the nature of drones, there's potentially little loss in "reality" in simulator training plus repeatability and monitoring advantages, which begs the question why you'd risk a million quid drone "practising" landings if you could achieve the same or better skills outcome through simulation.

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Re: Landings and takeoffs are controlled from within the theatre of operations

Surely the management phrasing is 'unintended interactions at the ground/air boundaries'

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Re: Is there a technical reason why the pilot has to do it manually?

This is getting into the training needs analysis area, certainly some skills that are only required in the rare event of an emergency need to be practiced regularly to ensure you get it right first time. As to what anlysis has been done and what answers came out I don't know, but it may be that the US Army used different assumptions to the USAF in their planning and are dangerously unprepared for an emergency that hasn't happened. Yet.

Also there are dangers in only using simulation to practice procedures as there can still be a perceived pressure when doing it for 'real' that isn't present in the sim, after all if you spank the landing in a drone there's still the subsequent enquiry etc to go through.

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Re: Is there a technical reason why the pilot has to do it manually?

"Also there are dangers in only using simulation to practice procedures as there can still be a perceived pressure when doing it for 'real' that isn't present in the sim, after all if you spank the landing in a drone there's still the subsequent enquiry etc to go through."

But the problem is that USAF are still spanking drones and enjoying the subsequent inquiry. The numbers are quite clear that the increased practice they get from doing more manual manouevring evidently isn't offset by the drones they potentially "save" when conditions are less peachy.

For your argument to hold water either USAF need to demonstrate lower losses than the Army (which they aren't on the data we see). Or the drones need to physically carry intelligence back to base to make selected mission recoveries in manual only landing situations more valuable than the higher "practice" losses. AFAIK most drones aren't doing silver halide based photo reconaissance, so that's probably not the case either.

I take your points on the pilot needing to know how to control the drone when automation is unavailable or fails, and that drones can crash without human intervention, but that's not an argument for using automation less, more an argument for improving the technology to make it more reliable and more autonomous.

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Re: Is there a technical reason why the pilot has to do it manually?

To be honest without seeing the current numbers I couldn't say if the USAF have a major problem with UAV landing accidents or Lewis was dealing in his usual hyperbole with his article on the subject.

However, as every flight safety course will tell you that 70-80% of aviation accidents are due to human error, the USAF would have known in advance that they were more likely to have a landing accident in manual control. Which means they must have a decent reason for doing it.

It did also occur to me that automatic landing systems reduce the number of aircraft that can operate in a given time, as you have to wait for the previous aircraft to clear the protected area around the ILS transmitter. This is why Heathrow starts cancelling flights as soon as the weather gets a bit iffy as they're pretty much at capacity already. So it may be that the USAF want to minimise the disturbance to other aircraft operations and decided that manual approaches were one way of doing this. Meanwhile the US Army may not care about other aircraft operations, or indeed be operating somewhere it's less of an issue.

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Re: Is there a technical reason why the pilot has to do it manually?

@SkippyBing part of the issue is normalizing for the different type of air vehicle: most would contend that flying a RQ-9 Shadow into a net is _different_ from landing a RQ-4 Global Hawk and then taxi-ing said Global Hawk off the active runway onto some hardstand where they can hook up the tow bar... but incidents such as taxiing off the runway into a ditch (or into some other vehicle) may still be considered "landing accidents".

And indeed, the RQ-4 can happily fly itself thousands of miles, and land, all totally autonomously... but it can't taxi where other aircraft may be operating...

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Its a great Google maps image of Creech AFB, you can actually see a drone on the runway (or more precisely just above it) taking off. That's either really lucky, or makes you realise just how many flights they are running!

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Anonymous Coward

Instead of "drone"

Why not use "Thargon"? More descriptive AND more UK tech site friendly.

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Headmaster

ad terram, actually

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@Gwaptiva

Can you just say 'per ardua terram'? (It's 40 years since I wrangled latin grammar, after which I forgot most of it.)

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Re: @Gwaptiva

I am not certain that you can actually, since ad means to.

If it were ab (from) you could use the ablative absolute, but hazy memory tells me that that was a two parter too.

I'm not certain that there is a counter part for ad. (Ablative absolute was drummed into me as " by from with in", happy days. Caecillus is in the garden you say? Sitting?)

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Re: @Gwaptiva

Caecilius mortuus est. That's about all I remember

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Re: @Gwaptiva

moutuus est? But he was in the garden only a moment ago!

Damn it, poor guy.

Also it shouldn't be terram I don't think, now I look at it, as nothing is happening to terra.

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Vic
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Re: @Gwaptiva

> Also it shouldn't be terram I don't think, now I look at it, as nothing is happening to terra.

It should be terram, but it should be "ad terram"[1], as it's motion towards the Earth. Ad always takes the accusative.

Vic.

[1] Possibly "ad Terram", even, but I'm not going to get that picky...

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Re: @Gwaptiva

> moutuus est? But he was in the garden only a moment ago!

> Damn it, poor guy.

Well, he did have a garden on the slopes of Vesuvius

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucius_Caecilius_Iucundus#Fictional

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