CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, NV - AUGUST 08: An MQ-9 Reaper takes off August 8, 2007 at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada. The Reaper is the Air Force's first "hunter-killer" unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), designed to engage time-sensitive targets on the battlefield as well as provide intelligence and surveillance. The jet-fighter sized Reapers are 36 feet long with 66-foot wingspans and can fly for up to 14 hours fully loaded with laser-guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles. They can fly twice as fast and high as the smaller MQ-1 Predators, reaching speeds of 300 mph at an altitude of up to 50,000 feet. The aircraft are flown by a pilot and a sensor operator from ground control stations. The Reapers are expected to be used in combat operations by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq within the next year. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Drones have quickly become one of the Pentagon’s weapons of choice in the areas of surveillance and attack, and there has been an increasing need for training new pilots and sensor operators. Over 20,000 military and civilian personnel are currently assigned to the program, and it’s on the fast track to becoming one of the the Air Force’s largest divisions. Writer Ainsley O’Connell’s digs deep into the drone program and its operators over at Fast Company.