4It Doesn't Look Like the Movies, Either
Gary Williams / Getty
The first time I saw Hollywood's take on a drone was in one of the Transformers movies. There's some big shootout with a robot scorpion and, right as Michael Bay gets ready to climax, a Predator drone jets onto the scene for some deus ex rocket-pissing machina:
And that soaring dildo of murder is controlled through this bank of awesome-looking computer monitors ...
... in a crowded control room filled with a standard array of Important-Looking Military Guys, one of whom does his uniform shopping at Target:
Things look pretty much the same in The Day the Earth Stood Still, only there's a random helicopter parked in the middle of the room. The movie-army operates on the same principles as a bunch of 11-year-olds playing with Micro Machines.
Somewhere, off in the distance, the top of a skull-shaped rock breaks open to reveal missile batteries.
That's all the invention of Hollywood's most thoroughly cocained minds. The stark reality is that drone operators are stuck together in a tiny metal box that smells like ass. Your "office" is 8 feet wide, 7.5 feet tall, and 30 feet long. Most of it is filled with computers. You need a special code to get into each box, and you're pretty much alone with your partner for the duration of the shift. It's always kept at 68 degrees, so you're cold. And the lights are typically off. Over the years, the stench of each individual person gets sucked into the seat. A couple pilots and I came up with a mathematical equation for how many farts each seat absorbed over the course of the year. It was around 17,000.
Reuters / DailyMail
Do not light a match in here.
This is what the "cockpit" of a drone really looks like. If you'd like to know what it smells like, visit the last day of Comic-Con and start sniffing chairs.
3It Forces You to Predict the Future
Veronique de Viguerie / Getty
I mentioned lag earlier -- this is one of the technical reasons drone warfare is the worst video game you'll ever play. There's typically a two- to six-second delay for any action. This means we don't see Joe Insurgent's left turn down that road until long after he's made it. Ever tried to play through a major lag spike in World of Warcraft or Call of Duty? By the time things clear up, you're usually face-deep in testicles or well on your way to wiping the raid.
In a shocking oversight, the Geneva Conventions say nothing about teabagging.
But when you're controlling a drone, paying for everyone's repair fees isn't an option, and your 12-year-old-like swearing vocabulary isn't going to get you points with anyone's mom. You have to get good enough at reading people to guess their movements. And you have to do this via a shitty camera several hundred feet above that person.
There was one time we were following a vehicle in downtown Baghdad. Bad weather messed with the satellite and made us go "lost link." The video screen froze, the telemetry froze. The entire computer system just locked up, and we didn't know if it was on their end or our end or somewhere in between. Our airborne missile-humping Terminator circled harmlessly in the sky above the target, drifting on thermals like a stoned metal eagle.
U.S. Air Force / Getty
"It's medicinal, yo. My sensor has glaucoma."
Ten minutes later, the link came back. We managed to find the vehicle again, but the people inside it were gone. So we had to just sit there and watch the vehicle until they came back. We were there for hours, until my shift ended and the next group of guys got to sit in my uncomfortably warm chair and wait for our target to get back.
Two teams of trained soldiers spent hours staring at a parked car, not fighting the war on terror, all thanks to lag. Welcome to the yawning face of modern warfare.
Christian Science Monitor / Getty
You'd get more excitement out of a double shift at your local library.