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standards (2)

Even though you might NOT see yourself from your current professional or student position as an Airborne Sensor Operator (ASO), see if you’re an Airborne Sensor Operator in this Q&A:

Q1: Is my primary profession (.e.g. Archeologist, Police Officer, Student, Photographer, ISR Imagery Analysis, Land Surveyor, Fireman, Research Scientist, Realtor, Engineer, Powerline Inspector, GIS Analysis, etc.) other than a person solely (full-time) participating in aviation & aerial remote-sensing activity? Also, can aerial remote sensing capabilities support my primary professional goals & objectives?

Q2: Do I participate in Aerial Work flying activities with a Pilot-In-Command (PIC) of a manned or unmanned air vehicle and operate & collect data with remote-sensors and/or I’m both a PIC and sensor operator controlling an unmanned system to collect data?

Q3: Does my participation in an aviation activity as a crew member or team member (manned & unmanned) could affect the safety of an aircraft conducting a flight and the results of the data collected? 

If you answered YES to the questions above, you’re an Airborne Sensor Operator! Because this profession is not well defined in the global academic, commercial and civil aviation administration communities (something ASOG is trying to change), it could be confusing to see yourself as an Aerial Work crew member. There’re many non-flying professionals who drive their car to an airport with the intent to fly & collect data or participate on a sUAS crew who are working as an aircrew member vs. a hybrid-passenger! Bottom-line, the Airborne Sensor Operator profession consists of both full-time & part-time Airborne Sensor Operator professionals.

Either full-time or part-time, the following recommended standards will round-out your professional skills and improve the quality of your aviation participation and data collection activities:

General Responsibilities - Airborne Sensor Operators should:

  • Approach flying with seriousness and diligence,
  • seek excellence in airmanship,
  • develop and exercise good judgment and sound principles of aeronautical decision-making,
  • recognize and manage risks effectively, and use sound principles of risk management,
  • maintain situational awareness, and adhere to prudent operating practices and personal operating parameters (e.g., minimums),
  • act with responsibility and courtesy, and
  • adhere to applicable laws and regulations.

Crewmembers, Passengers or People In Your Area of Operations - Airborne Sensor Operators should:

  • Maintain a professional crew member mindset at all times (vs. Passenger mindset),
  • keep your fellow crewmembers, passengers or people in your area of operations as safe as possible,
  • act professionally towards your crew members, passengers or people in your area of operations and practice the principles of Crew Resource Management,
  • seek to prevent unsafe conduct by crew members, passengers or people in your area of operations, and
  • avoid operations that may alarm, disturb, or endanger crewmembers, passengers or people in your area of operations or people on the surface.

Training and Proficiency - Airborne Sensor Operators should:

  • participate in regular recurrent training to maintain and improve proficiency beyond legal or professional requirements,
  • participate in flight safety & remote-sensing education programs,
  • remain vigilant and avoid complacency,
  • train to recognize and deal effectively with emergencies & collection system failures,
  • prepare for and review each lesson carefully, and
  • maintain an accurate log to satisfy your training and currency requirements.

Use of Technology - Airborne Sensor Operators should:

  • become familiar with and properly use appropriate aviation & remote-sensing technologies,
  • Invest in new technologies that advance flight safety & remote-sensing. Learn and understand the features, limitations, and proper use of such technologies,
  • carry redundant systems and equipment and use them in appropriate circumstances,
  • maintain basic flying and remote-sensing skills to enhance safety in the event of failure or absence of advanced instrument displays or automation, and
  • use flight simulators and training devices as available and appropriate.

After reading this post and you believe you meet the definition and standards of an Airborne Sensor Operator (even as a secondary profession or duty), Airborne Sensor Operator Group (ASOG) welcomes you to the community. So get out there and “kick the tires, light the fire and you’re cleared to cut.” But most of all be safe and enjoy being an Airborne Sensor Operator!

If you’re interested in furthering the ASO profession and want additional information regarding ASOG & its mission, you can find us at or if you’re reading this post on our webpage, click the “Sign-Up” button.

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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