Thousands of aircrafts fly through the sky every day. Did you know that some of the aircrafts above your head don’t have a trained pilot aboard? They are called unmanned aerial vehicles or drones.
Drones are remotely piloted aircraft that are controlled by drone operators or drone pilots who can be located anywhere in the world. Drone operators takeoff, maneuver, fly, and land drones from a virtual cockpit full of joysticks, data links, instruments, and screens. It’s very similar to a real airplane cockpit, except that the drone operators are located in a safe environment far from the action.
Militaries have used drones for years to send aircraft to remote or challenging destinations without endangering anyone. Currently the majority of drone operators work for the United States Air Force running military and special operations missions, but this could soon change. As drones become more mainstream, new opportunities for drone pilots are becoming possible.
Typically drone operation falls into one of six categories – Target and Decoy, Recon, Combat, Logistics, Research and Development, or Civil and Commercial. These niches cover things like power line inspection, clandestine operations, military operations, wildlife monitoring, border patrol surveillance, filmmaking, crowd monitoring, package delivery services, sports broadcasts, aerial photography, oil and gas exploration, disaster relief, real estate marketing, maritime monitoring, land surveying, conservation efforts, forest fire detection, and more. Who knows what drones will be used for next!
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International predicts that drones will create 100,000 jobs and contribute $82 billion to the US economy by 2025. Currently, drone integration into the National Air Space system is a slow process. With so many drone applications, it’s hard to regulate where, when, who, and how high drones can fly.
Flying a drone is like a flight simulator game with real consequences. Yet, drone operators are often bored and easily distracted sitting in the safety of some remote, virtual cockpit away from the action. It takes some getting used to. It’s often compared to playing a video game. In fact, some drone operators even incorporate a PlayStation2 controller into their piloting!
Drones are used for lots of things – military drone pilots flying multi-million dollar fighting machines on covert missions, movie productions studios using quadcopter drones to get footage for Hollywood hits, or hobbyists flying fixed wing UAVs to get YouTube footage. Drones are quickly growing in popularity. In some applications, drones are actually being built faster than pilots can be trained.
To become a drone operator, you will need a background in engineering, flying, or possibly video games. It may be wise to consider attending the Unmanned Vehicle University to learn the ins and outs of this niche and to earn a UAV Pilot Training Certificate. There are also some new university degrees focused on drone science. It’s a constantly changing and expanding niche.
Drone operator training usual involves online learning, flight school, ground school, and simulator training. After training, you need to log flight time and experience before you can find jobs with military, government agencies, or movie production studios. Drone operators can make as much as $50 per hour or between $30,000 and $275,000 per year. Obviously, the drone operators making the big bucks are flying Predator drones with 60-foot wingspans on government missions, not quadcopters that are available for purchase online.
The future of drones is exciting. It’s a constantly changing niche, so do your research before you jump in. This new industry needs people like you to remotely explore the world. Are you ready to become a drone operator?
Quick Facts About Drone Operators
Job Title: Drone Operator, UAV Pilot
Office: Virtual cockpit
Description: Remotely fly drones
Certifications/Education: Training required
Necessary Skills: Focus, Knowledge of drones and regulations
Potential Employers: Military, Border Patrols, Film Studios
Pay: $30,000 to $275,000 per year