Future drone pilots may fly four warplanes at once

December 23, 2011 19:41


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WASHINGTON/PARIS - Western militaries are experimenting with having future drone pilots command up to four aircraft at once, adding new potential challenges even as a top-secret US drone's crash in Iran exposed the risks of flying unmanned aircraft thousands of miles away.

The initiative could help satisfy feverish demand for unmanned planes at a time when budgets are tight, and military officials said they see great promise in initial tests under way in Britain and the United States.

But they also acknowledge some hurdles, including public resistance, legal questions and added stress on pilots -- concerns heightened by news that US authorities are investigating whether a combination of pilot error and mechanical failure caused the loss of the Lockheed RQ-170 Sentinel shown on Iranian television.

"If there was any pilot error in the recent loss of the drone over Iran, that will have to make policymakers think long and hard about entrusting the operation of multiple drones to one pilot at the same time," said Loren Thompson, a Virginia-based defense consultant.

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