The problems with the current operator system is that it was designed for engineers, not pilots, say drone specialists. The original drone was just an aerial surveillance vehicle; missiles were not added until 2001. Then with American forces at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, many commanding officers in difficult situations demanded this efficient new weapon for tracking and eliminating perceived enemies.
“There was a lot of time pressure to get them on the theater,” says George B. Harrison, a retired general and consultant to the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. Harrison said the current operating system is “usable” and its deficiencies correctable. “Considerable research and a lot of effort is going into designing a more human-friendly control station.”
“It can be very confusing for the operators,” admits Missy Cummings, a professor at MIT who also serves on the AFSAB. “Things haven’t been optimized. It’s a system problem across all operating stations.”
Finding people to pilot the drones has proved unexpectedly difficult. The ground control station had many flaws that required work-arounds, such as accessing fuel gauge information and creating more work space. Accidents were common. One pilot mistook the “kill engine” button for the adjacent landing gear switch, resulting in the crash of a $4.5 million Predator drone. The pilots of traditional manned vehicles who moved in remotely piloted aircraft did not always make the best drone operators. A lot of people dropped out of the program and retention was low.
There are reports of post-traumatic stress disorder and many more of sheer boredom.