This is how the Air Force plans to fix its drone pilot shortage

July 15, 2015, 2:25 PM UTC


Where wooing new manufacturing business from out of town is concerned, there's a lot to be said about Alabama. When European aerospace giant EADS was looking for a location to build a U.S. manufacturing facility for its Airbus A320 airliners, Mobile got the nod. The Mercedes-Benz manufacturing plant in Tuscaloosa has continued to steadily add jobs and facilities since the state successfully convinced the German manufacturer (part of Daimler AG) to locate there back in the mid-1990s. Alabama is aggressive when courting new manufacturing jobs, and it has a proven track record of landing big deals with big companies. That on its own might not say much for its place in the UAS industry where much of the coming innovation and growth is just as likely to come from smaller aerospace concerns. But Alabama is also notable among U.S. states for ranking fifth in percentage of state GDP derived from the aerospace sector. Going back to the early stages of the space race, Huntsville has been and remains an anchor for U.S. aerospace innovation. The Army's Unmanned Aerial Systems Project Management Office is located outside of Huntsville at the Redstone Arsenal and often loops University of Alabama Huntsville students into its work, helping to educate a native local work force with experience in the field (its proximity to Florida's aerospace-rich employment pool can't hurt either). Whether or not all of that adds up to Alabama winning an FAA test site designation or whether it will break out to become a major UAS industry hub is still pretty unclear, but as a dark horse candidate there's plenty to like in Alabama. And if it does win a test site certification the calculus for the state could change dramatically. Right now it's a sleeper within the industry, but it might just be a sleeping giant.
Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

If you’ve ever thought it would be cool to join the military, the United States Air Force is sweetening the deal, offering a $15,000 per year bonus to people who sign up to be drone pilots for either five or nine years.

The plan is being implemented due to a shortage of drone pilots, according to The Wall Street Journal. The offer is available to existing Air Force Pilots, although the Journal also notes that 80 pilots graduating flight school this year will be automatically placed in the corps of drone pilots.

The United States has used drones for both airstrikes and surveillance throughout the world. The Obama administration’s use of drones in the “War on Terror” has garnered ferocious criticism from both sides of the political aisle, but if this program is any indication, the mechanization of war looks to be something that will expand, not recede.

One other change that could be made to expand the pool of drone pilots would be to allow enlisted airmen, rather than just officers, to pilot drones. As of now, that’s not happening.