Video gamers are better than GA pilots as UAV operators


By Dario Leone
Sep 2 2017
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This research comes in the wake of military and civilian drones proliferation which has created a growing demand for qualified UAV pilots

As reported by, a study conducted by University of Liverpool found that video gamers are much better than general aviation pilots as operators of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

During the research forensic psychologist Jacqueline Wheatcroft at the University of Liverpool’s Institute for Psychology, Health & Society teamed up with pilot and aerospace engineer Mike Jump, also at Liverpool, to test video gamers as UAV pilots. Their report, published in the journal Cogent Psychology, compared game players who had flight simulation experience with general aviation pilots and professional pilots from airlines and the military. As a control, a fourth group consisted of non-pilots with no video game experience.

Drawing on similarities between UAV ground stations and gaming software, a simulated UAV was created by Jump using Microsoft FSX. The simulated aircraft was similar in size and performance to small, fixed-wing aircraft used to train general aviation pilots in the real world. The researchers then watched how the four groups performed during various phases of flight, beginning with taxiing and proceeding through landing.

During each phase, the pilots were subjected to three situations where they had to make a decision involving various degrees of danger and risk. In all situations, the pilots could rely on automated flight systems, or they could fly the aircraft manually.

Video gamers are better than GA pilots as UAV operators

The outcome of the research was that after professional pilots, gamers had the second best scores in a key personality factor – neuroticism. The lower the score, the better the person is able to handle stressful situations.

Wheatcroft however stressed that her study is not conclusive enough to recommend gamers as drone operators.

“There’s not enough research for us to be confident about the outcomes of using particular skill sets and so on. We have put our toe into the water with this. All we’re saying is that [gamers] could have a good skill set for this task.”

Furthermore John Fields, a UAV instructor who manages training and flight operations, adds that video gamers “typically do a lot better” at controlling drone sensors because of their hand-eye coordination skills. Those systems are guided by a Sony Playstation-type controller.

MQ-9 Reaper

Noteworthy this study comes in the wake of military and civilian drones proliferation which has created a growing demand for qualified UAV pilots. As we have explained to face a shortage of trained operators, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) has begun training enlisted airmen to fly drones like the MQ-9 Reaper. USAF UAV pilots no longer have to be pilots who first trained to fly fighters or other conventional aircraft.

Photo credit: Senior Airman Christian Clausen / U.S. Air Force and MC3 Kevin J. Steinberg / U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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