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Occupational Health Screenings of U.S. Air Force Remotely Piloted Aircraft (Drone) Operators

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Final rept. Jan-Dec 2012

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Remotely piloted aircraft RPA also known as drone operators have critical roles in the U.S. Air Force USAF, ranging from intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions to delivering weapons on targets for close air support and precision strike operations. The health and wellness of RPA operators are critical to sustaining performance readiness. As a result, the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine was requested by USAF line operator and medical leadership to conduct a field survey to assess for general areas of health-related behaviors i.e., sleep and exercise alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine use common reasons for seeking medical care and mental health support services and reasons for increased prescription and over-the-counter medication usage. A total of 1,094 MQ-1 PredatorMQ-9 Reaper operators pilots, sensor operators, and mission intelligence coordinators from three USAF major commands completed the web-based survey, resulting in a 49 response rate. Statistical analyses were performed to assess for between-group major command differences to quantitative and qualitative items assessing a the amount of sleep obtained before work and the frequency of engaging in structured physical exercise throughout the week b the amount, frequency, and increase in consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine and the reasons for increased consumption c medical conditions worsened by current unit assignment and occupational stress d changes in healthcare utilization since being assigned to PredatorReaper operations and the reasons for these changes and finally e increases in medication utilization since being assigned to PredatorReaper operations and the reasons for such increases. A number of recommendations are provided for line and medical leadership for optimizing health for RPA operators. Such recommendations included optimizing work hours and shift work schedules, managing the ergonomic strains inherent in the PredatorReaper workstations,

Subject Categories:

  • Pilotless Aircraft
  • Psychology
  • Personnel Management and Labor Relations
  • Medicine and Medical Research

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