Sonic Johnson, Chief of Public Affairs at Columbus Air Force Base, updated the Columbus Exchange Club Thursday on the goings-on at AFB, including its new experience utilizing drones.
Johnson explained that drones are more cost effective and can stay in the air longer than manned aircraft. Pilots can only legally fly for 18-24 hours, depending on the number of pilots in the aircraft, Johnson said. Drones can stay in the air for two days.
Drones also cost far less than paying pilots, Johnson said, so more drones can be in the air all at one time, which confuses opponents. All this is at minimal risk to pilot lives.
“What is cool about it (is if) someone shoots one of those down, we lose no lives,” Johnson said. “They have no POWs.”
They are a “great advantage” to the Air Force, Johnson said.
Despite these benefits, unmanned aircraft won’t put pilots out of business, Johnson said. Currently the average age of pilots is around 57, within a few years of mandatory retirement.
“And guess where (airlines) like getting their pilots from?” Johnson said. “Yeah, the Air Force is about to go into another pilot crisis of being short.”
AFB graduated 323 future combat pilots in the 2015 fiscal year, Johnson said. In the last 20 years, the base has produced approximately 1,100 pilots, he said. He explained how the base begins a new training class every three weeks. In total, pilots at the base fly over 53,000 sorties and total over 73,800 hours in the air. It has been the busiest airfield complexes in the country in three of the past four years, Johnson said.
He said that the Air Force will start finding ways to incentivize pilots to stay with the Air Force.
Johnson also answered questions from Exchange Club members on topics ranging from drones to how to get families and students at the AFB to become more involved in community events in Columbus.
The difficulty, he said, is that many of them get their news from a variety of sources and use social media platforms more than local media outlets. Because of this, they think little goes on in Columbus, he said.
The best way to let pilots know about events in the community is to contact Johnson himself and the Publica Affairs Office at the AFB, Johnson said.
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