HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (KRQE) - The Air Force training underway for hundreds of personnel in southern New Mexico is helping keep U.S. forces safe across the world.
Holloman Air Force Base is the primary training base for some of the newest aircraft in the military.
The pilots are nowhere near the aircraft they are flying.
"My unmanned aircraft can go places to where a manned aircraft could not go, maybe it's too dangerous or what not," explained Predator instructor pilot Capt. Craig, "There's less risk, if you will."
Liftoff of the remotely piloted aircraft or, RPA, happens with the pilot on the ground.
With a flight time of 15-20 hours, both models of RPAs can fly half way around the world. They offer airborne surveillance, reconnaissance and weapons.
Many RPA pilots say one of the biggest challenges is not using all of their senses such as hearing sounds and feeling the bumps as they fly. Pilots describe it as a totally visual experience.
"Because you don't have the sensation of the aircraft under you, it's difficult to tell exactly what the aircraft is doing," Squadron Leader Dex, an RPA instructor, said. "You have to rely on your instruments."
Instead, those senses are read on a two-dimensional computer screen by a sensor operator. This person monitors equipment and calls out speeds and height to the pilot.
"We don't have the physical or the visual sensation as being inside of a glass cockpit, being able to look out, but the internal sensation is there," Craig said.
Hands-on simulated missions prepare officers for real combat and force them to make tough decisions.
"What we try to do is make this as realistic scenarios for our guys that are flying these airplanes as possible," said Col. Ken Johnson, 49th Wing operations commander, .
The benefits of being remote include the option to switch out pilots every two hours. And all of the pilots remain far from harm's way.
"I definitely feel physically safer," Craig said. "I'm here in the U.S. controlling my plane that is elsewhere."
Currently, Holloman is training hundreds of personnel in its RPA program.
Johnson said RPAs help reduce the unknowns of war, but he doesn't see them completely replacing manned aircrafts.
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