GEOG 892
Geospatial Applications of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)

The Human Element


Like any other technology that requires human intervention for the safety of operation, human involvement is considered to be the most important element for the successful and safe operation of the UAS. Even with autonomous flights using autopilot, the human role during launch and recovery is crucial to the operation of the UAS. As navigation technology develops further, the human role in operating a UAS will diminish dramatically.

The human element is key in almost all operational aspects of any UAS and plays a great role in the success and survival of its operation. Starting with mission planning, humans have to design and arrange a concept of operation in order to guarantee success. Equally important is the human role in the flight control process. Autopilot can do only so much without the guidance and intervention of the operator.

The role of the pilot and the observer cannot be underestimated, as without them the flight will not occur. This is true even with the most sophisticated drones, such as the Predator. Even the Predator, with sophistication and automation built in, needs a pilot to fly it. The human element is involved in all of the following aspects of operating a UAS:

  • Mission planning and control: has to be performed by an operating team.
  • Launch and recovery procedure: has to be performed by an operating team.
  • Payload management and control: has to be managed by an operating team.
  • Data links monitoring: has to be managed by an operating team.
  • Ground support equipment coordination and management: has to be performed by an operating team.

Automation in operating a UAS results in less human intervention, but it will never eliminate the role of the human in such an operation. Imagine that an airline invites you to be on board an airplane flown solely by autopilot. There are no pilots on board. Would you accept such an invitation? I am certain your answer would be a big NO. Using the same analogy, could you imagine operating a UAS, which is less sophisticated than a jetliner, without a pilot and without an observer? That is how important the human role is in operating a UAS. That is at least true for the time being. Who knows what the future may bring to this field.

To Read

  1. Williams, K. Human Factors Implications of Unmanned Aircraft Accidents: Flight-Control Problems, FAA report, DOT/FAA/AM-06/8 Office of Aerospace Medicine Washington, DC 20591- April 2006