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sensor operator (5)


Yes, I’ve thought of it many times, but, I never really drilled down to some of the details related to this topic. If you’re interested, read this white paper from the Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA). Maybe its just me, but the key words “Airlines” and “Pilots” can be interchanged with “Aerial Work” and “Aircrew”…..cybersecurity has no borders or discriminate between crew positions in an aircraft or on an RPA crew…we’re all pretty much working with some kind of remote and connected Gizmo! ...What do you think?  ASOG Desk Editor (Patrick)

Aircraft Cybersecurity: The Pilot’s Perspective

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In the last 30 years, the Aerostat aircraft has undergone tremendous changes in both mission and sensor equipment. If you don’t know what an Aerostat is, it’s a low-level airborne ground surveillance system that uses aerostats (moored balloons) as a sensor & communications platform, i.e., an unmanned aerial vehicle. Along with these changes, the roles & responsibilities of the operator have also changed to include managing sensors.

Today's Aerostat Operator 

Jump forward to today, and the individuals who manage the mission of an Aerostat is commonly known as the Aerostat Operator (AO). On the ISR side of the house the AO, besides managing the flight of the Aerostat, is responsible for quite a mix of cutting-edge technologies and radios.

The ISR Aerostat platform of today is usually fielded to provide Operations and Sustainment (O&S) support to include the Persistent Threat Detection System (PTDS) and Persistent Ground Surveillance System (PGSS). The ISR Aerostat aircraft is considered part of the Quick Reaction Capability (QRC) that provides integrated persistent surveillance, detection capabilities, and Full Motion Video (FMV) dissemination to Tactical Operation Centers (TOC). The Aerostat system integrates different sensors to detect small arms fires and Counter Improvised Explosive Device (IED) activity near airfields, fixed-base encampments, forward operating locations, and other facilities in support of rapid reaction security forces in the area of operation.

Considering all the flight oversight of the platform and the sensor operations an AO must manage during a routine mission or shift, the AO of today is often multi-tasked like other aircrews. While keeping one eye on the threat, they’re also watching the flight status of the airship and all the elements that provide critical support. Also, there’re usually two or more tactical radios, chats or land-lines buzzing asking a million questions about the situation.

Besides the AO managing all the system maintenance, sensor operations, and mission duties, he or she must maintain and provide attention to his or her primary duty: safety-of-flight. Even with all the responsibilities of the force protection mission, the AO must always look for conflicting aircraft activity and weather conditions.

Like with other flight operations, if additional tasking is assigned, it’s often the AO that interacts to complete the mission. For example, if the Aerostat system needs to relocate, the AO must coordinate to make sure all the elements of the system is mobilized in a quick-reaction manner and doesn’t miss a beat in operational readiness.  

Selection and Training

Most companies and organizations have a formalized selection process for AOs. Among the usual hiring criteria considered are work records, experience, and technical skills. Any flying experience is considered, but many successful AOs have limited or no prior aviation experience. However, after completing Aerostat training and building mission hours, they develop a baseline aviation skill set.

Training programs have also become much more formal and structured. Current training consists of formal classroom, simulation, and in-flight events to learn how to manage and use all the technology and resources available. The newly assigned AO must learn quite a bit about a sometimes completely strange environment. They learn to speak aviation with such terms like transponders, safety management systems and aircraft de-confliction to name just a few. Although every organization has different requirements, many training programs from start to a fully qualified AO can take anywhere from xx months to a year. This does not include any additional even-more-specialized training that an AO might need. If the AO does multi-duty work such as special system repairs or management duties, the AO has additional training.

Once fully mission qualified, there is constant recurrence training. As with most technologies, equipment and capabilities change rapidly, and the AO is expected to keep up with any changes or new mission equipment that becomes available.

One could say that a surveillance aircraft is just an aircraft until a properly trained Operator makes it a true surveillance platform. Operating in such demanding conditions requires all the same skills as a good ISR or any aerial work crewmember:

  • Planning, and Coordinating Expertise
  • Technical adept 
  • Personal Leadership and Integrity
  • Communication (written and oral)
  • Accountability for Results

Bottom-line, the Aerostat aircraft has come a long way since its employment. Additionally, the Operators have also come along way in their roles & responsibilities. Todays Aerostat Operator is more than a ground crew managing a tethered airship; they’re aircraft maintainer, pilot and sensor operator all in one. In many ways similar to a sUAS/RPA operator.

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ASOG Members,

Job Announcement from the ASOG Career Center, Wayne in our group just relayed another opportunity for those ASOs in the ISR sector and who are qualified instructors, i.e., Mission Systems Flight Instructor (Job No. 644874). The hiring company is Leidos, and the job location is Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD U.S.A. The basic job duties & responsibilities are:

  • Create, validate and execute ground-based academic training in a classroom
  • Create, validate and execute mission-oriented, scenario-based flight training
  • Create, maintain, and document student training progress, using appropriate Army standards and forms
  • Create, update and modify training items in appropriate Army databases
  • Assist with test and evaluation of MEP systems as part of validation of training

If you’re interested, please go to ASOG Career Center – Job Postings or contact Wayne in our group.

Thanks, Everyone!

ASOG Career Center

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As an Airborne Sensor Operator Group (ASOG) member, you know how important professional development is, i.e., one reason you joined this network/group.  

“Professional development is learning to earn or maintain professional credentials such as academic degrees to formal coursework, conferences and informal learning opportunities situated in practice. It has been described as intensive and collaborative, ideally incorporating an evaluative stage. There are a variety of approaches to professional development, including consultation, coaching, communities of practice, lesson study, mentoring, reflective supervision and technical assistance.” (Wikipedia)

One of my favorite professional development TTP (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures), and there are many others, is attending Trade Shows & Conferences. When it comes to improving my professional knowledge and strengthen my career, there’s no substitute for a live learning event like a trade show or conference. By interacting with a roomful or exhibit hall of peers, asking questions of subject matter experts, and examining real-world applications of the information you’re focused on, it helps cement your knowledge & connections.

Yes, most trade shows and conferences are expensive, but if you’re able to get your employer to send you or budget your funds to attend, take advantage of it. Also, before attending have a plan of what you want to learn, experience and whom to connect with, this will maximize your investment.

Additionally, to go above and beyond just attending, try to become a guest speaker. Going through the processes and sharing your professional experiences and knowledge will double your knowledge & connections.

For reference, below is a list of events that relate to the Airborne Sensor Operator profession (Civilian, Public Safety, and Defense). If you know of any other events that relate to the Airborne Sensor Operator profession, please speak up.  (Note: The list below was randomly selected from the internet based on their relationship to the ASO profession…ASOG has no connection with these events. Also, see the home page for additional events around the world and for the different industry sectors).

ICASDM 2018: 20th International Conference on Aerial Surveying and Digital Mapping

Dubai, UAE

April 9 - 10, 2018


Commercial UAV Expo 2017

Commercial Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Expo

24 Oct 2017 - 26 Oct 2017

84 days to go

Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino


Maritime Reconnaissance and Surveillance Summit

26 September, 2017 - 28 September, 2017

Rome, Italy


ISR & C2 Battle Management US conference

7 November 2017 - 9 November 2017

Bethesda, United States


Maritime Security & Coastal Surveillance Conference

28 November 2017 - 29 November 2017

Singapore, Singapore


ASOG Desk Editor (Patrick Ryan)

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What’s Your ISR Sensor Operator Vetting Process?

Finding the right person to fill a position is always a challenge.  Will they fit in with the culture of your company or unit?  In the airborne sensing business, this can be an extremely tricky question, and it depends upon the position you are trying to fill.

If you need an operator to run a sensor in a low threat, low altitude, civilian aircraft in a non-combat area, then almost anyone with average technical skills, average common sense, and average ability will be able to do the work, unless they have some previously undiscovered motion sickness or fear of flying issue.  One could say, these types of missions are “low threat, routine” and any competent person can do them without much hassle, and only minimal training is required on how to run the systems.

However, if you are trying to find a person who can run a sensor (of any kind) in a combat zone and have direct contact with the “customer” on the ground, you MUST set up your criteria for what you want representing you and your company.  The individual you hire may be the hottest thing on two wheels during routine, day-in day-out, pattern of life style missions, but on “THAT DAY,” you need someone who can handle the pressure of doing it right the first time, every time.

When I was on active duty in the Air Force, we were not allowed to remove a student from training without cause.  With pressure from the headquarters to constantly turn out more and more operators (because we were always undermanned), we wanted to identify early which of our prospective students were most likely to need extra attention, or possibly would need more unusual training methods to get the instruction to “stick.”  Since these individuals would also be flying with us when we deployed, we had a vested interest in making sure they were the best we could make them.

 We devised a “vetting” process we would use for our prospective students.  The student candidates had to accomplish the following, simultaneously, for an hour:

  1. Play HALO (or any other storyline, first person shooter game) on medium and not die.
  2. Monitor a second screen with CNN, FOX or some other national news outlet, with a news scroll bar across the bottom, and keep track of what was scrolling.
  3. Listen to an audio book in their left ear, and be able to relate the major plot lines and characters of the story.
  4. Listen to a music play list in their right ear, and keep track of which songs they had heard.

We did not expect (nor did we ever achieve) a perfect score.  But, what we did learn was that students who had the hand eye coordination, prioritization skills, and ability to train themselves to pay attention to what was important at that moment, had a much higher success rate than those who were natively unable to handle these tasks.

In the aircraft, it happens MUCH faster, and the consequences are simply life and death.

As instructors and trainers of military flyers, this was the most realistic vetting we could come up with that could approximate the average workload on a combat mission profile.

Our operators had to be able to track a moving target with a camera, and not lose PID, listen to the combat chatter of the ground team we were supporting, and make sure we were fully informed of what their locations, plans, and current actions were.  We also had to keep track of our aircraft position relative to our currently assigned airspace and altitude block, keep track of the pilots’ coordination with the airspace control authority, as well as any other supporting aircraft that were in the same piece of airspace with us.  We then had to be able to relay ALL this information to the ground force commander, so he or she was fully informed of the activities in their command area, in preparation for, or in direct support of, combat operations.

In the airborne sensor world, defining what you expect from your operators clearly and establishing an effective “vetting” process, and then training them to do the job properly will ensure a positive result. Having the right and well-trained crew member will help the individual, the crew, and the unit gets the job done right the first time, every time.

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