Top Drone Pilots Battle At Elite Training School
CORONADO, CA – Two months ago, Senior Airman Rod Wilkins was a flyboy without a war. Due to what he describes as “typical military bureaucracy,” his Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) unit at the time remained stateside without any real mission.
So Wilkins—who goes by the call sign “Ghostbuster”—spent his days flying UAVs around base, harassing Security Forces on patrol by zipping in front of their vehicle windshields and startling them.
“One guy veered off the road and died,” Ghostbuster said with a chuckle. “It was a tragedy.”
In Ghostbuster’s mind, though, the real tragedy was that his skills were being wasted. He had finished at the top of his class in tech school, well ahead of his peers.
"I think I did so well because I got a headstart as a boy flying radio-controlled planes and kites," Ghostbuster said. "Actually, mostly kites."
Ghostbuster's command eventually recognized his talent and sent him to Top Ground Command and Control Station School (GCCSS) in Coronado—the so-called “Top Drone” program that produces the military’s elite drone pilots.
“I knew right away that I was facing some stiff competition,” Ghostbuster said. “As soon as I walked in the building, there were all these pilots who were overweight and soft and pale, and their faces were covered in acne. You don’t get that kind of body without hours and hours in the cockpit [sic], away from the light of the day. These guys were the real deal.”
Ghostbuster was soon paired up with A1C Jeremy Rodriguez, a Pilot Supply Specialist who goes by the call sign “Pidgey,” after the Pokémon creature. (It is common for Drone pilots to take call signs of flying Pokémon.)
Pidgey's job was to make sure that Ghostbuster stayed well-stocked with snacks and soda during long training missions.
“I feel the need,” the two were known to say in unison, “the need to feed.” Then Pidgey would drive out to Taco Bell and bring back an order of Nachos Bell Grande and a large Pepsi.
If Top Drone had the best of the best drone pilots, then Ghostbuster and Pidgey were the best of the best of the best. They outperformed every other team in the program, except for one: SrA Ted “Ice Tea” Kazinsky and his partner, A1C Frederick “Cheesesteak” Hawkins.
“Ghostbuster thinks he’s such hot shit,” Ice Tea said, “but every time his drone is in the air, it’s unsafe. I don’t like his drone because it’s dangerous.”
“That’s right, Ice Tea, my drone is dangerous,” Ghostbuster replied, before turning back to the YouTube video he was watching on his second screen.
The tension between the two teams came to a head during a volleyball game at the beach last weekend. Spectators reportedly couldn’t keep their eyes off the four men glaring at each other before the match, circling each other like testosterone-filled Brahma bulls.
The spectators left, however, immediately after the men took off their shirts.
Despite his undeniable talent, Ghostbuster’s cocky attitude and risk-taking have made him a target for his superiors’ ire.
“If you screw up just this much,” one instructor was overheard saying, “you’ll be flying a drone full of propaganda leaflets out of the Rio Grande.”
The course is still in progress, but Ghostbuster and Pidgey have already been on a real-world mission. They were assigned to monitor drug smugglers operating in an undisclosed location in the American South.
During the operation, Ghostbuster lost control of his plane. Ice Tea was the first to notice.
“Mayday, mayday,” Ice Tea said. “Ghostbuster is in trouble. He’s in a flat spin heading out to sea.”
Pidgey tried to help his partner out, but he couldn’t reach the ejection handle.
“You’re gonna have to punch us out,” Ghostbuster said to Pidgey, with panic in his voice.
After a tense couple seconds, Ghostbuster sat forward in his chair and reached around the back of his computer screen.
“Okay, never mind,” he said. “Who’s been dicking with the monitor’s V-hold?”
For scaring everyone, Ghostbuster was grounded by his Commander for three weeks.
Upon hearing the news, Ghostbuster went out to the parking lot and drove home, leaving Pidgey to fly the UAV back to base himself.
Pidgey stuffed a handful of Cool Ranch Doritos into his mouth and wiped off the orange film on his fingers onto his cubicle wall. Then he pressed a button for autopilot and leaned back in his chair.
“Ghostbuster taught me everything I know,” Pidgey said. "He can be my wingman anytime."
"Wait, I didn’t mean it like that," Pidgey quickly added.