A research team from the Naval Postgraduate School last month quietly published some surprising findings about MQ-1 Predator flight crews.
A previous study found that the shift-work nature of Predator flight operations takes a toll on the crews. The average MQ-1 crew — a pilot and sensor operator — was likely to show signs of severe fatigue more often than crews for any other “high-demand/low-density” asset in the US military aircraft inventory.
The USAF made some big changes after the first study was published. To help crews adapt their circadian rhythms to the grind of shift-work, MQ-1 operational tours switched from weekly to monthly. Crews also were given three days off instead of two to help recover.
All those changes were supposed to help relieve the fatigue problem, but the research team for last month’s follow-up study found that nothing had changed. Despite operating from a home base, Predator crews are still the most fatigued flight crews in the military.
Here are some more findings from the study:
Overall Assessment: Based on the data collected, the investigators noted the following:
• Survey results were essentially unchanged compared to one year ago and indicated a pervasive problem with chronic fatigue.
• Nearly 50% of surveyed crewmembers met the diagnostic threshold for levels of daily sleepiness which can be expected to adversely impact job performance and safety.
• Duration of being a shift worker, decreasing sleep quality, and impaired domestic relationships were all associated with increased fatigue.
• M&S did not identify an alternative shift schedule which would result in improved work effectiveness over that predicted for the current schedule.
• The root problem for this population was not the shift system features themselves, but rather a lack of adequate manpower to provide sufficient recovery opportunities.