View Full Version : Enlisted sailors to fly Fire Scout

08-16-2009, 11:09 AM
When the Navy opens a preliminary training pipeline for the unmanned Fire Scout helicopter, enlisted sailors will be at the controls.

The Navy will begin with two sailors — a senior chief aviation electronics technician and an air traffic controller fresh out of “A” school — who will train on the Fire Scout this fall for deployment on a frigate early next year.

The Navy plans to scrutinize their training progress and performance, and consider whether to open the door for more sailors to join the growing career field of unmanned aerial vehicle operators over the next several years.

Previously, officer pilots trained to fly H-60 Seahawk helicopters have operated Fire Scouts in testing. Now, these two sailors will perform the same task, equipped with a basic commercial pilot’s license and a five-week course on the Fire Scout.

“I would hope that they don’t treat us any different than the rated aviators. That way, the higher-ups get a good take on the training we’ve received and whether we are ready to go out there,” said Senior Chief Aviation Electronics Technician (AW/SW) Stephen Diets, one of the sailors tapped for the experiment.

Joining him will be Air Traffic Controller Airman Alan Williams, who recently completed air traffic controller “A” school after seven years working on planes in the private sector.

Starting in October, the sailors will undergo the same Fire Scout training provided earlier this year to a cadre of rated helicopter pilots. By early next year, they will join a detachment from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 42 on a counter-drug deployment to South America on the frigate McInerney.

The Navy chose sailors with different levels of experience to help senior officials evaluate the level of skills and maturity needed to operate UAVs.

The debate about who will fly UAVs will likely intensify in the coming months as the Navy sees how these sailors perform and begins to draw up specific requirements, cutoffs and Navy enlisted classifications for sailors seeking to move into a UAV career track.

That analysis will include the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance aircraft, a large patrol plane slated to join the fleet in 2015.

Cost may be a significant factor pushing Big Navy to consider sailors for UAV operations.

Training a winged pilot can cost $500,000 to $1 million, depending on the type of aircraft. Training a sailor to pilot a UAV could cost just a fraction of that.

Outside the military, researchers say there is little need to have rated pilots manning UAV ground stations.

“The vehicles can fly themselves. What we need are smart people to manage them. We need to break away from this paradigm of what it is to fly a UAV,” said Missy Cummings, one of the Navy’s first female fighter pilots who is now a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Some research suggests pilots may have more trouble learning to fly a UAV than sailors who do not have pilot training. A study last year by the Federal Aviation Administration found higher rates of human-error crashes among Air Force Predators, which are flown by winged pilots, than Army Shadows, which are operated by enlisted soldiers.

“If you can’t show a cost-benefit analysis to have a rated pilot in there, I don’t think you can justify it,” Cummings said.
Broken links

So what happens if an unmanned aerial vehicle loses its data link?

Regardless of who’s flying them, nearly all UAVs are designed to handle a communication breakdown. Standard procedure will essentially halt the mission, and the aircraft will loiter in a holding pattern for a set period of time (as brief as two minutes for small aircraft, as long as 30 for larger ones). If the data link does not reconnect, the aircraft will begin to return to its ship or home station automatically.

Secondary data links, such as standard, line-of-sight radio frequencies, will help operators re-establish a connection and land the aircraft safely.


08-16-2009, 12:48 PM
Could it be that my long hours playing the Ace Combat series are about to pay off? I need to reenlist! :D

08-16-2009, 01:48 PM
Awesome. Very cool. Can't wait to see this in service. I'm sure they could help a lot in the anti-pirate operations. They would also be very useful for forward reconnaissance during amphibious operations(whether it be a Marine Corps battalion or a small team of SEALs).

Although, I thought that these were supposed to be autonomous. Or is that part of the program just coming later?