Just before the New Year, the U.S. Air Force announced that it's allowing enlisted personnel to pilot drones for the first time ever.
The thought behind the newly-installed rule was that there's an increased demand for drones due to the rising rates of terrorist threats and that it was also due to budget cuts and potential layoffs facing the U.S. military. In addition, allowing enlisted personnel to fly drones would take some pressure off the Air Force's drone crews.
Well, let's hope the Air Force guides drones safer than they did last year. That's because, a Washington Post investigative report found that 20 large Air Force drones were destroyed or suffered at least $2 million in damages via accidents sustained in 2015 — the worst year for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) crashing in the Air Force's history.
Within that, what's very concerning is the Air Force's newest, most-sophisticated drone, the Reaper, actually powered the surge of drone accidents last year. That's a major problem, considering that particular drone is being counted on for airstrikes and surveillance against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State amongst its enemy military groups.
In documents obtained by the Post, the Reaper was revealed to have suffered sudden electrical failures that caused it to loser power in flight, sending the 5,000-pound drone crash down from the sky. The Post's investigation found that issue to be a faulty starter-generator, but couldn't uncover what's causing it.
In 2015 alone, 10 Reaper drones were either destroyed or damaged, marking at least double the amount than in any prior year, Air Force safety data informed the Post. Within that, the number of Reaper accidents per 100,000 hours flown more than doubled that of 2014.
Lt. Gen. Robert P. Otto, the Air Force's deputy chief of staff for intelligence/surveillance, told the Post that the Air Force is actively looking to pinpoint the exact cause of the crashes.
"We're looking closely at that to determine what is the core issue there," Otto said.