Unmanned aerial vehicles are a growing part of the nation’s defense strategy. As the guardian of the country’s borders, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has implemented the Predator-B Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to prevent the unauthorized entry of terrorists, criminals and undocumented immigrants. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) currently maintains and operates a fleet of 8 Predator-B aircraft from its bases in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and North Dakota, but it is in the process of adding to this number to widen its operational effectiveness. Under its current program, two pilots are assigned the operation of each Predator-B.
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The Importance of UAVs in Securing America’s Borders
UAV Pilots are among the federal government’s most valued professionals. The ability of these aircraft to clandestinely monitor long stretches of the border and approach terrorist or criminal bases of operation have made them ideal for CBP operations. The highly qualified pilots who operate these UAVs act as force multipliers, enabling limited national resources to be stretched further. Instead of devoting expensive surveillance systems across the long borders, UAV pilots are able to utilize this much more cost effective system without sacrificing mission performance.
Unlike other pilots in the Office of Air and Marine, UAV Pilots enjoy the satisfaction of keeping the United States safe from threats originating abroad without having to put themselves or their partners in harm’s way. Using agile aircraft that can gain critical intelligence or deliver ordinance to a threat location, UAV Pilots ensure the greater effectiveness of America’s border security forces.
UAV Pilot Job Description
UAV Pilot jobs require operators able to perform the following tasks:
- Monitor large areas of land, sea and airspace
- Detect and track unauthorized vehicles, ships, aircraft or personnel until law enforcement personnel are able to interdict
- Recognize threats to national security and public safety, and activate defense protocols that neutralize them
- Operate sophisticated surveillance and detection equipment
- Coordinate with CBP and other federal personnel during an interdiction operation
- Obtain intelligence about terrorist or criminal activity localized to the U.S. borders
- Liaise with foreign governments, police agencies and personnel about activity occurring on their territory
- Monitor the situational disposition of hostile individuals as CBP personnel move to engage
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Pilot Salary and Job Benefits
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is in need of highly skilled and trained personnel to operate its fleet of UAVs. This need for qualified personnel has fueled a generous salary structure for incoming and long-time pilots with considerable opportunity to advance to higher pay grades as well as obtain a supervisory position within the Unmanned Aircraft Systems division or other law enforcement agencies.
An entering UAV Pilot may expect a GS-11, GS-12 or GS-13 pay rating with a cap of GS-13. If the pilot obtains a position as a supervisor or executive, they may receive a GS-14 or GS-15 pay rating. The 2012 salary ranges for these pay ratings were as follows:
- General Schedule 11 $50,287-$65,371
- General Schedule 12 $60,274-$78,355
- General Schedule 13 $71,674-$93,175
- General Schedule 14 $84,697-$110,104
- General Schedule 15 $99,628-$129,517
These figures only reflect the base salary which is usually adjusted for cost of living. In addition to COLA, many of these jobs require extended periods on the clock and around-the clock availability which is usually compensated with Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime (AUO) which may range from a 10 to 25 percent increase in salary plus COLA.
As federal employees, UAV Pilots receive a very desirable benefits package which includes
- Life insurance
- Health insurance, with the option for vision and dental
- Thrift Savings Plans which operate similarly to a 401k
- Long term care insurance
- Paid holidays in addition to accrued personal leave days
- Tuition reimbursement
- Retirement after 30 years of service under FERS
- Paid training
Click here to find out how to become a UAV pilot.