July 4, 2013
BEHIND every aerial drone is a human operator. Thousands are civilians, working for contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Civilians may not fire missiles, but they fly spy planes and fix them when they break down.
Andrew Lohmar, for example, piloted ScanEagle surveillance drones for the American navy for over five years. He was stationed in Iraq, on ships and even on an oil platform in the Persian Gulf. When his two-man team provided reconnaissance for the rescue of American hostages from Somali pirates aboard the Maersk Alabama, a container ship, in 2009, they worked around the clock for five days straight. Small wonder that a 2011 study by the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine found nearly half the operators of spy drones suffering from high levels of stress.
“There were times you saw things that you did not really want to, including people dying,” says Mr Lohmar. “Other times brought home the fact that the people on the other end of the lens were human beings too, such as seeing a ‘bad guy’ playing with his kids.”