It was bound to happen. First the Air Force announces it’s first class of non flying pilots. Now North Dakota University is the first to offer the world’s first bachelor’s degree for pilots who will never leave the ground.
To help meet the demand for UAV operators and pilots, the University of North Dakota has set up a four-year undergraduate major and enrolled its first 12 students. There already is talk of a graduate program as well.
But it makes sense. I’ve flown a remote-controlled plane and the skills are nothing like those learned in the cockpit. Besides, it will save about $1.5B over the next six years according to the Air Force Times.
The service spends more than $2.6 million to train a fighter pilot. Training for an airlift pilot, relatively speaking, is far less — about $600,000. The audit recommends “eliminating 20 unnecessary weeks of the current undergraduate pilot training program, deleting unnecessary graduate training on other aircraft,” and adding an eight-week UAV undergraduate course and 12 weeks of UAV graduate training. The cost, the report estimates, would be a little more than $135,000 per pilot.
Yes I’ve heard the snide remarks about “Orange flight suits to hide Cheeto stains” and “Flying Barcaloungers with beverage holders”. Despite the naysayers, it’s on its way with breathtaking speed.
There are still concerns about close air support with a guy dropping weapons with a soda straw view of the battlefield 7,000 miles away. Still, they have great loiter times, are less complex and not subject to G-LOC. It stretches the imagination to think of future battles relegated to UAV pilots thousands of miles from each other locked in a video game war. No need for valor. No need for courage.
The days of manned attack planes and interceptors will still be with us, at least for a while, to provide the air supremacy needed for drones to operate. No doubt someone, somewhere is working on removing pilots from that equation too.