Behind The Wheel
According to the U.S. Defense Department, "The Predator is a system, not just an aircraft." This is because of the unique way the Predators are deployed and controlled.
A fully operational system consists of four Predators (with sensors), a ground control station (GCS) that houses the pilots and sensor operators, and a Predator primary satellite-link communication suite.
On the ground, there are the techs and support personnel normally associated with aircraft. The whole show takes about 82 personnel to run successfully. This fully integrated team is capable of using the four aircraft for 24-hour surveillance within a 400-nautical-mile radius of the ground control station.
The Predator can run autonomously, executing simple missions such as reconnaissance on a program, or it can run under the control of a crew. The crew of a single Predator UAV consists of one pilot and two sensor operators. The pilot drives the aircraft using a standard flight stick and associated controls that transmit commands over a C-Band line-of-sight data link. When operations are beyond the range of the C-Band, a Ku-Band satellite link is used to relay commands and responses between a satellite and the aircraft. Onboard, the aircraft receives orders via an L-3 Com satellite data link system. The pilots and crews use the images and radar received from the aircraft to make decisions about controlling the plane.
Predator aviators have described piloting the aircraft as flying an airplane while looking through a straw. This is quite a change from driving a conventional aircraft from the cockpit. Predator pilots have to rely on the onboard cameras to see what's going on around the plane. For the crew, it's a trade-off between the disadvantage of limited visibility and the definite plus of personal safety.