Model Airplane News contributor and full-scale pilot Kyle Matthew has an interesting job as a department head for the Navy’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Test Directorate. We caught up with him to ask him what it’s like to fly UAVs, from the small Shadow he’s standing in front of to the big Predator.
What types of missions do you fly?
They range from low level route reconnaissance to high altitude area surveillance. When an operation is ongoing the Commander gets a near real-time view of what is going on. He can then make the appropriate decision on how to proceed with the mission. We can also provide BDA (Battle Damage Assessment) on a target that has been destroyed.
Do you fly the entire flight?
That depends on the mission and which UAV I’m flying. Typically with the Scan Eagle we flew 4-6 hour missions and I did fly the entire time. Global Hawk missions would last 24 hours or more, so we use 4 pilots and rotate every few hours throughout the mission.
Do you have any recommendations for people who might want to get involved with UAV?
That is a good question and I’d say the answer depends on what kind of UAV you’d like to fly. If you want to get into the larger UAVs such as Predator, Reaper or Global Hawk you will need to have at least Private pilot’s license with a Commercial & Instrument rating and 500 Pilot in Command hours. For the smaller tactical UAVs such as Shadow or Scan Eagle all you need to be is computer literate and able to multi-task. For systems that have external pilots for takeoff and landing, such as Hunter and Aerostar, all you need is large scale RC experience.
Either way I would highly suggest at least getting a private pilot’s license and as always the more education you have the better, i.e. Associate or Bachelor degree. A well educated, computer savvy person with a strong aviation background and RC experience should have no problem getting into this profession. The need for UAVs is growing extremely fast and will only continue to grow in the near future. Do a Google search for UAV jobs and you’ll be amazed how many are out there, ranging from the Predator down to the hand-launched Raven.