Interview with a UAV Pilot

Interview with a UAV Pilot

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.

Updated: July 15, 2015 — 4:10 PM


  1. Awesome insite! RC and UAVs are changing the world!

  2. The UAV business had has caused an increase in Jersey Modeler Fuel Systems~!
    Dean Kraus /JM


  4. Lets not forget the US Military Enlistment Standards.

    Army – 35
    Navy – 34
    Marines – 28
    Air Force – 27
    Coast Guard – Age 27

  5. Thank you, Mr. Matthew, for your service. You are quite the role model for our young men. This is a very timely story as we grow closer to July 4th.

    UAVs are saving the life of full scale pilots since they don’t put a pilot in harm’s way and can still perform missions of a length that is greater than a single pilot can endure.

  6. Very proud to have him on our side.

  7. As an elevated camera platform (ECP) for research, this type of system will have multiple uses, hence new jobs. Review, for example, the CropCam. One of the Midwest ag universities instrumented a whole cropped field to collected a variety of data and then a UAV was flown over the same field and the data were very similar. The bottom line, you can monitor crop conditions with a hand launched ECP with essentially similar results in a few minutes of flight compared to days setting up a test plot. Remote sensing of forests by aerial surveillance has for years been flown with big planes but the big planes are expensive and are getting more so as fuel prices continue to rise. The engines are now very expensive to rebuild, hence the cost per flight hour is rich.

    Dr Edo McGowan, Agricultural & Environmental Aeronautics.

  8. Now here are some jobs that will not be out sourced.

  9. Wish I were 27 and back in the Air Force for another 20 years.

  10. Get a grip people…drones are just an extension of RC aircraft! It’s just taken to a higher technicolgical level! The problem is, as I see it, that warfare will become so remote as to human interaction on a viseral scale, that it will become easier to kill one another because you will not have to experience the hilt of the sword pressing against the flesh of one’s enemy…that’s something one can never forget!!


  11. Wes, warfare seems to be a steady diet for this nation. The Report from Iron Mountain, an apparent spoof, details the analyses of a government panel which concludes that war, or a credible substitute for war, is necessary if governments are to maintain power.

    Fiction and reality here are thinly separated and the Iron Mountain report seems to be approaching reality. Thus, it may be best that one does not actually hold the hilt, messy as that gets, but rather the clean end, half way around the world, of a distant joy stick.

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