McCurley was an Air Force Predator pilot and commander for much of the past decade. This book is a collection of stories detailing the Predator RPA operations in the war on terror in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen.
There are two separate crews for each Predator flight. The launch/recovery group is “in theater” in Afghanistan or Djibouti or wherever – somewhere safe, but close to the action. They are in charge of launching and landing the planes, as well as maintaining them. The mission pilots and sensor operators are for the most part at Creech AFB near Las Vegas. Predators stay aloft for much longer than an 8 hour shift, so there is usually a hand-off or two between pilots for every single mission.
For the most part, the work seems kind of boring but interspersed with brief moments of excitement (e.g. firing a Hellfire missile). They spend weeks following every move of a “high value” individual to establish a “pattern of life” – both to plan out the optimal time and place of execution (that’s really what it is…) and to see what other leads could be gained. When the time comes to take a shot, there is a rather lengthy chain of command approval that seems to go pretty close, if not all the way up, to Obama. Sometimes this is a significant delay…made me wonder why they don’t establish some specific rules of engagement for such targets they have been tracking for months, rather than waiting on real-time approvals?
For combat support, the rules are a little more forgiving. If our soldiers are in danger and need support, Predators in the area can be diverted to go take a shot or two. This seems to be the most fulfilling part of the Predator pilot’s job.
Final impression: the military is just big. There are huge pieces of real estate out in the middle of the desert in these places with billions of dollars of equipment and thousands of people.