Army Nears Aerial Milestone

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The Army expects to top 1,000,000 total hours in unmanned aviation by April, and sees a need for over 3,000 UAV operators by 2018. The Army plans to recognize the hours-flown milestone in late May with displays in Washington at the Pentagon and the Smithsonian Museum. Meanwhile, fiscal year 2010 should see the addition of about 800 trained operators (UAV pilots). Aside from vastly reducing the risk to military personnel, the Army's UAV program has pushed human error accident and incident rates close to the single-digit mark, according to the military. The military attributes that, at least in part, to the adoption of automated methods employed for takeoff and landing. Currently, roughly 90 percent of the hours flown by unmanned aircraft are done in support of combat, according to Col. Christopher Carlile, director of the U.S. Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence. He added that the Army is ready to both expand use of unmanned systems and broaden the unmanned aerial system mission set. As for personnel, a joint training installation operated by the Army at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., trains soldiers, sailors and Marines.

The total flight hours are up from roughly 500,000 hours accumulated through January of 2008. By October of that year, the military had plans to grow its UAV fleet from about 100 to 370, and its roster of non-flying pilots from about 450 to 1,100. The Army says it has found that placing enlisted service members at the controls of unmanned aircraft systems has proven to be most effective. That finding, according to Col. Carlile, makes the Army unique among the armed services, and added that the finding was not likely to change. According to Col. Carlile, aviation is complex and prone to mishap. The Army has found those mishaps can be minimized by allowing unmanned aircraft technology to do "what it does best" -- applying automation wherever possible. While the Army expects to top the one million mark next month, it may be fall before it achieves one million hours flown solely in support of combat operations.

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