Military Drone Operators Are About to Outnumber Human Pilots

Soon, more pilots will be on the ground than in the air.

3. 15. 17 by Abby Norman
Image by pixabay

Drone Warfare?

The United States Air Force is looking for a different type of pilot — and not the “Top Gun” kind. For the first time ever, the Air Force has more jobs for drone pilots than for traditionally piloted aircraft, according to Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson.

“I never thought I’d say that when I joined the Air Force,” Lt. Gen. Roberson said during a roundtable with reporters at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida. “So we’re really in a much better footing with RPA [remotely piloted aircraft] pilot production in addition to just getting the numbers up.”


By The Numbers

According to a report by, the Air Force expects 1,000 remote pilot operators in its RPA arsenal of MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers for 2017. That’s higher than the number of human-piloted aircraft in service, according to AETC spokeswoman Lt. Col. Tracy Bunko. There are about 889 pilots flying the C-17 Globemaster III and 803 flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon, Bunko said.

As the very concept of warfare changes, the manner in which it’s conducted has to change, too. Drones — be they unmanned or remotely piloted — are examples of this evolution. The benefits aren’t just strategic, either: drones are also safer, removing the pilot from any actual physical harm.


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