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Ear to the Ground

Stress Disorders and Drone Pilots

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Posted on Feb 23, 2013
Skley (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Researchers report that drone pilots experience mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder at the same rate as pilots of manned aircraft deployed in the Middle East.

The study, performed by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, analyzed health trends among military personnel but did not try to explain the sources of the problems described. Military officials and independent experts have suggested witnessing combat on live video feeds, working in isolation or with rigid hours and crew shortages, and balancing home life with military work.

It also seems that spending hours every day looking at a screen would lead to ennui.

“Remotely piloted aircraft pilots may stare at the same piece of ground for days,” said Jean Lin Otto, an epidemiologist who was a co-author of the study. “They witness the carnage. Manned aircraft pilots don’t do that. They get out of there as soon as possible.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

The New York Times:

Dr. Otto said she had begun the study expecting that drone pilots would actually have a higher rate of mental health problems because of the unique pressures of their job.

Since 2008, the number of pilots of remotely piloted aircraft — the Air Force’s preferred term for drones — has grown fourfold, to nearly 1,300. The Air Force is now training more pilots for its drones than for its fighter jets and bombers combined. And by 2015, it expects to have more drone pilots than bomber pilots, although fighter pilots will remain a larger group.

Those figures do not include drones operated by the C.I.A. in counterterrorism operations over Pakistan, Yemen and other countries.

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