The Air Force has gone on the offensive in an attempt to dispel what it calls myths about the community of remotely piloted aircraft pilots as Hollywood and Broadway both have produced works highlighting the lives of drone pilots.
With the release of the Ethan Hawke movie "Good Kill" and the recent Anne Hathaway play "Grounded," the Air Force has sent RPA pilots and commanders into the public to try to tell the real story of the airmen who operate the aircraft.
"We've been quiet about it for years, and there were good reasons for that, there were some direct concerns," said Col. Jim Cluff, commander of the 432nd Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. "Now we've undertaken a very deliberate process to tell the story while at the same time making sure we are protecting our airmen. Our concern is just that we didn't talk a lot about what the community does and how they do that, and left it to others to figure it out."
The Air Force on May 15 released a list of common myths about RPA pilots and the aircraft that are getting all the attention.
"Public interest in remotely piloted aircraft continues to grow thanks to increasing non-military uses and portrayal in popular culture," the Air Force said. "For the Air Force, remotely piloted aircraft are and will continue to be a vital mission set delivering vital airpower to combatant commanders throughout the world."
The Air Force cites as myths that drones are less safe than manned aircraft, that there is no demand for their capability, that they do not have to comply with Federal Aviation Administration requirements, that only two airmen are involved in each mission and that the aircraft only conduct surveillance.
There are about 200 people supporting remotely piloted aircraft for one combat air patrol, including intelligence, maintainers, and launch and recovery personnel. The service's most common drones, MQ-1B Predators and MQ-9 Reapers both conduct surveillance and precision-strike "against carefully chosen targets, minimizing risk of collateral damage," according to the Air Force.
The risk of collateral damage is a central theme for the film "Good Kill." The movie follows a former F-16 pilot Maj. Tom Egan now assigned as an RPA pilot at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, played by Hawke. As the film progresses, the missions drain Egan and he questions if he is an airman who is obeying orders or a killer.