There's nothing ordinary about life in the RSAF, because everything is elevated to a different plane.
MAJ John Nehemiah Samuel UAV Pilot
Is it possible to be in two places at the same time? For MAJ John Nehemiah Samuel, a UAV Pilot, it is. He controls UAVs, or pilotless planes, from the ground but keeps his mind and focus up in the air.
While it may sound like a simple task manoeuvring remote-controlled planes, the job of a UAV Pilot is no child's play. Think more sophisticated controls and planes. Think hours of preparation involving simulator training and studying. "We need to revise and read up to keep building a deeper knowledge of the aircraft system and our operations. It's extremely important we make the best decisions in the time-critical environment of flying," says John.
This is especially important with the growing UAV industry worldwide. UAVs now come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the tiny to the phenomenally huge. Keeping abreast of the latest technology is a challenge John faces every day. "There was a time when I had a whole string of back-to-back flying and was preparing briefs and debriefs, sometimes at odd hours of the day. And I still had to find enough time to revise and assimilate the lessons of each flight. That experience really tested my mental endurance."
Being a UAV Pilot calls for a mixture of aviation and situational awareness skills. When quizzed on how he manages to be on the ball all the time, John smiles, "The sense of camaraderie with an eclectic bunch of people!" Simply put, team spirit.
While many people indulge in fast cars, MAJ John Nehemiah Samuel's joy rides take him to greater heights. It's part of a job that's not just fun but intellectually demanding – correct decisions have to be made with precise timing.
Sending a UAV on a mission is no easy task. It requires the close coordination of a team of four. During takeoff, an External Pilot controls the UAV from the side of the runway. Thereafter, the job is handed over to three others in the Ground Control Station where the Internal Pilot continues flying the aircraft and the Payload Operator records real-time footage. They are both supervised by the Mission Commander.