Author Topic: USAF Proposes Single-Operator MQ-9 Cockpit  (Read 26825 times)

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Offline Loachman

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Re: USAF Proposes Single-Operator MQ-9 Cockpit
« Reply #50 on: October 30, 2015, 12:13:57 »
I'll backtrack slightly, flying helicopters is one thing most of us would have problems with.  Not impossible, but a lot of habbit patterns, translating in muscle memory, to unlearn.

It's really easy. The only tricky part is learning to hover. The collective moves up and down, and essentially controls power. The problem is that "Up" means more power, whereas the similar "Back" motion on a throttle means less power. Conversely, "Down" on the collective, a similar motion to "Forward" on a throttle, means less power rather than more. This is a little confusing at first, as the helicopter moves down when one wants it to go up and vice-versa, and as that confusion grows the wrong-way-ism gets worse until the Instructor mercifully takes control. There is also a tendency to over-control with the cyclic at first. Once I clued in and related it to fine pressures rather than movements required for formation flying in the Tutor, I settled right down. The hovering thing took the better part of a lesson, and after that it was merely improvement over time. No flaps and speed brakes and landing gear and crap to worry about at all. The Kiowa almost knew just what I wanted it to do - I never had to think about it at all.

That's the easy part.

Keeping track of where the friendly ground guys were and the (known) enemy and - where the hell did my Number Two get to this time? - and A10s coming on station in twelve minutes, should be able to get this fire mission going before that, and dodging wires, trees and cows, and did that farmer just throw a potato at us, and - WTF is Number Two up to now? - and trying to monitor four nets plus the Observer trying to tell me what's around the corner and and and - that's the not-so-easy part.

Could you learn and excel at my ex job; almost certainly yes, but it would take time and experience.

And motivation.

The fighter guys parachuted into 10 TAG did not want to be there, and so had no interest in learning.

The only non-fighter seized-wing guy who I can remember coming into Tac Hel was a single-tour Buffalo driver who arrived in 427 Squadron as Deputy OC Slug Flight. He took it seriously and (threw wicked parties) and so did well, and stayed Tac Hel for the rest of his career.

I have some sympathy for those fighter guys, but not for their unwillingness to adapt. They just stayed miserable, and made others so. Both sides are fortunate that this never happened again, but Tac Hel much more so.

Baz, Dimsum and/or Loachman: Am I correct in assuming (from what I've read) that most larger UAVs have two crews: one that handles takeoffs and landings and another that flies long (often 24 hour long) missions?

That depends.

We conducted the entire mission for Sperwer, including launches and recoveries.. Sperwer was wholly-owned by the CF, though.

Scan Eagle and Heron were launched and recovered by the contractor, and handed over to CF crews for the tactical portion.

Predator/Reaper are entirely operated by military crews.

If that's true then I'm guessing that the takeoff/landing job requires either or both of:

     1. Specialist pilot skill sets; and/or

     2. Proximity to the takeoff/landing site (visual contact?)

Is that correct?

Sperwer and Scan Eagle were launched by catapult. AVOs were mostly 4 Air Defence Regiment Bombardiers with the odd Master Bombardier, and one of our four was a Sergeant aircraft tech.

Pilot experience was not required in order to operate them, just a decent brain. The control panel for Sperwer reminded me of Star Trek Original Series control panels - a few largish, square, illuminated push buttons coloured red, yellow, and green and a couple of knobs to twiddle. All instrumentation was displayed on a single monitor for the applicable position. Each crew member could switch to another's software and assume that function, if necessary. I had the AVO's software up for launches and recoveries so that I could also monitor the instrumentation, and would occasionally check it briefly during quiet periods just to be on the safe side.

Proximity to the take-off/launch and landing/recovery (two different areas a few kilometres apart) is required in order to control the machines - intervisibility between GCS/GDT (Ground Data Terminal, which was separate and could be up to a km away from the GCS for Sperwer as it was designed for a conventional warfare scenario wherein nobody wanted to be near large emitters) is necessary. Sperwer launched and recovered autonomously (we had to do a manual recovery one night and that was a real joy - and that could not have been done by a single person; I was really impressed by the brilliant co-operation and co-ordination between my AVO and PO), but manual control was assumed shortly after launch, as soon as the antennae were tracking and locked on.

But what about the people "flying" the UAV during its 'normal' mission? Do they have to be fighter pilot and/or sensor specialist types or could we have a two man crew of people who operate UAVs in flight? I'm not suggesting they would have "lesser" training, just different ~ able to fly (but not take off or land except in dire emergencies) and to manage the payload (sensors and weapons and C2 links.

That, too, depends.

Only the Mission Commanders on Sperwer were Pilots, and mostly, if not exclusively, Tac Hel. Tactical knowledge and experience were necessary and there are a few people alive because of my, and I presume others', prior operational experience.

Scan Eagle was operated by a pair of 4 AD Regt Bdrs/MBdrs. They were most likely more closely supervised, but I did not notice any problems. They seemed to lack confidence while speaking on the ATC net, though, judging by the hesitant voices.

All USAF Predator/Reaper Pilots were air-to-ground guys when I was in KAF, as the two jobs were very similar and involved weapons. None of the guys with whom I spoke expected to ever be moved back into a real cockpit. Consideration was being given to training pure Predator/Reaper Pilots as the programme expanded because they could not afford to suck as many guys as they needed out of real cockpits.

Or am I off in could-cuckoo land?

Not in this regard.

Amongst the strengths and weaknesses of various platforms, a UAVs can loiter for a long long time (like weeks) and then make the kill

Not so much when armed. Weapons replace fuel as payload, and only a couple were carried. Typical armed Predator/Reaper missions, during my first tour at least, were around three hours. Ours were 4.5ish.

Everything's a trade-off.

Offline Dimsum

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Re: USAF Proposes Single-Operator MQ-9 Cockpit
« Reply #51 on: October 30, 2015, 13:50:42 »
Actually, Heron launches and recoveries were usually done by the military crews.  Contractors could be used, but that wasn't common.
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Offline daftandbarmy

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Re: USAF Proposes Single-Operator MQ-9 Cockpit
« Reply #52 on: October 30, 2015, 14:24:38 »
It's really easy. The only tricky part is learning to hover. The collective moves up and down, and essentially controls power. The problem is that "Up" means more power, whereas the similar "Back" motion on a throttle means less power. Conversely, "Down" on the collective, a similar motion to "Forward" on a throttle, means less power rather than more. This is a little confusing at first, as the helicopter moves down when one wants it to go up and vice-versa, and as that confusion grows the wrong-way-ism gets worse until the Instructor mercifully takes control.

Reminds me of some of my first dates... without the benefit of an instructor :)
"The most important qualification of a soldier is fortitude under fatigue and privation. Courage is only second; hardship, poverty and want are the best school for a soldier." Napoleon

Offline Dimsum

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Re: USAF Proposes Single-Operator MQ-9 Cockpit
« Reply #53 on: October 30, 2015, 15:17:31 »
I'm not a heron expert.

I think we are out of the Heron business.  If memory serves the entire service including the airframes were "leased" for Afghanistan.

My opinion is it provides some (most) of the capability we would desire for land counter insurgency type ops.

It would not be what you won want for conventional interdiction (think AGS, JSTARS), maritime targeting (think Triton, maybe AGS, MPA, MH  for reactionary, Fire Scout), or certainly full up ISR.

I would think Reaper is much more rounded.

Dims um?  Loachman?

We are definitely out of the Heron business - the lease stopped in 2011 (Australian lease is still ongoing). 

Personal opinion:  It was ok for Afghanistan as an ISR platform, but it would have massive shortcomings in Canada even unrelated to weather.  It was powered by a 115-hp piston engine and cruised around 65kt.  It does have the capability for SATCOM but not in the version we used.  The one we had only had a laser pointer (not designator).  Finally, no weapons.

Reaper would be better in terms of dash speed (I read somewhere around 300kt?), SATCOM, sensor quality and weapons.  The one thing Heron had going for it in Afghanistan over the US platforms were that Int analysis was co-located with the GCS, which was in KAF.  So, analysis was near-real-time whereas the US platforms were in the US and I don't *think* had the same team or turnaround time for Int analysis.
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Offline Loachman

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Re: USAF Proposes Single-Operator MQ-9 Cockpit
« Reply #54 on: October 30, 2015, 15:29:09 »
They were putting Int guys in the Reaper GCS at least occasionally when I was there.

And did I mention the comfy seats?

Offline Eye In The Sky

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Re: USAF Proposes Single-Operator MQ-9 Cockpit
« Reply #55 on: October 31, 2015, 20:13:39 »
The Reaper folks I was over to visit had a take-off/landing crew and a crew who took over the flight (who were quite far away geographically) once they reached a chop point. 

Very comfy seats.

This might be worth a watch...http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/military/rise-of-the-drones.html  Also available on Netflix if you use a VPN and can get the US content...so I've been told... :Tin-Foil-Hat:
« Last Edit: October 31, 2015, 20:18:40 by Eye In The Sky »
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