Drone pilots might be flying missions thousands away from the battlefield, but can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) just like Marines and soldiers with boots on the ground. In a U.S. Air Force study, 4.3 percent of around 1,000 drone operators suffered from moderate to severe PTSD - still a lower number than the 10 to 18 percent of personnel on deployment, however.
It's not uncommon for drone operators to conduct reconnaissance on targets before launching a missile, getting a rare glimpse of their normal lives. Some of the survey respondents noted recurring nightmares, trouble falling asleep, difficulty concentrating and intrusive thoughts, among other symptoms.
"I would say that, even though the percentage is small, it is still a very important number, and something that we would want to take seriously so that the folks are performing their job are effectively screened for this condition and get the help that they [may] need," said Wayne Chappelle, a clinical psychologist and consultant USAF School of Aerospace Medicine.
Learning about drone pilots is a major effort by the U.S. military, which has shifted the burden of warfare on the unmanned drone flights over the battlefield.