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Since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, UAS have played ever-larger roles in intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance, and other missions. Consequently, there’s an increasing need for well-trained UAS operators.

While the selection of recruits for fighter jet pilot roles has been based on the US Navy’s rooted methodology, tests to qualify UAS pilots have to be established from scratch.

Georgia Tech and the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute—sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR)—are developing a series of new specialized tests to assess cognitive abilities and personality traits, and identify potential Navy and Marine Corps UAS operators.

According to, the Navy doesn’t have an official selection and training pipeline specifically for UAS operators as historically, the service took aviators who already earned their wings, gave them on-the-job, UAS-specific training, and placed them in temporary positions.

However, “the temperament and personality of F-18 pilots won’t necessarily be the same as those flying surveillance aircraft,” said Cmdr. Brent Olde, a program officer in ONR’s Warfighter Performance Department. “Neither will the required skill set be identical, so it’s important that we create a standardized way to assess the abilities of future UAS operators.”

The Selection for UAS Personnel (SUPer) comprises both written and computerized tests covering skills like math knowledge, spatial orientation, reading cockpit dials and critical thinking. Participants also study computer maps featuring prominent natural or manmade landmarks—and then remember object locations on larger, less defined maps.

Tests are followed by training exercises on a flight simulator designed to mirror common

UAS missions. Participants also complete psychological and personality tests to ascertain if

they would excel as UAS pilots—which often involves 12-hour shifts sitting in front of a control station, inside of an isolated command center.

“SUPer will be a valuable tool in helping the Navy pick the best people to become UAS operators, and determine who will be an optimal fit and find satisfaction in the role,” said Dr. Phillip Ackerman, a Georgia Tech psychology professor overseeing SUPer’s development.

Approximately 350 civilian and military volunteers are participating as SUPer research subjects at Ackerman’s Georgia Tech laboratory and various Navy and Air Force training centers. At September’s end, Ackerman and his research team will review the results; design a standardized exam for validation by prospective Navy and Air Force UAS pilots; and, hopefully, have a product ready for fleet implementation in 2018.