Unmanned aircraft are one of the fastest growing sectors in aviation. Their applications in the military are rapidly expanding day after day. Unmanned aircraft are being used in roles as diverse as close air support and climate data gathering. The demand is rapidly exceeding the supply of trained personnel to operate the aircraft.
The US Army is coping with their need via a single training base in Arizona. The base already sees hundreds of students daily and offers 20 programs of instruction on multiple unmanned aircraft systems. By 2012 the Army expects to deploy its first Gray Eagle company which means the base will see a serious increase in students beginning in the next few months.
Fort Huachuca, the Army’s unmanned aircraft training center, is ideal for the application thanks to the large restricted airspace surrounding the base. Roughly equivalent in size to Rhode Island, there is more than enough room for the enormous training efforts taking place on the base. The initial 21 week-long training programs can last as much as 16 hours a day. From there students are either deployed or they progress into more complex training programs which can last as much as 25 additional weeks. Like traditional flight training, the programs begin in the classroom before the trainees begin a rigorous simulator and flight training regimen.
The Army is heavily invested in cutting-edge simulator technologies thanks to the cost-savings realized in operating simulators versus actual aircraft. The goal is for students to realistically and safely train on the simulators and make a quick transition to real aircraft with little difficulty.