I-Team: Flight of the Predator - 8 News NOW

Jonathan Humbert, Investigative Reporter

I-Team: Flight of the Predator

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The flight of the Predator is about to begin. The flight of the Predator is about to begin.
"You're looking at the screen, it's two dimensional. You don't have that three dimensional feeling of being in the air," said Capt. Slack. "You're looking at the screen, it's two dimensional. You don't have that three dimensional feeling of being in the air," said Capt. Slack.

It's a crisp morning on a chilly tarmac somewhere in the Nevada desert and there's a silver and sleek war machine getting ready for take off.

Only this time, there's no cockpit and no pilot in sight. The flight of the Predator is about to begin.

Captain Bethany Slack says the MQ-1 Predator Unmanned Drone is a plane with many missions, "Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance." And strike attacks if needs be. An offensive in Iraq can be launched and executed from Las Vegas.

"You're looking at the screen, it's two dimensional. You don't have that three dimensional feeling of being in the air," said Capt. Slack.

Captain Slack has over 800 hours behind the controls of an F-16. Technical Sergeant Kimberly Scott has an intelligence background, "I come here with no air crew experience at all."

She controls the cameras, eyes and ears as sensor operator and gunner, "What we're looking at, what coordinates we're going to, zooming in, zooming out."

The Predator cameras are so sophisticated, they pierce clouds and slice the fog of war all while flying at 26,000 feet for 24 hours at a time. They also come packed with two hellfire missiles. We can't tell you their range or how far the cameras can see. -- that's classified.

Training for all this though is a tough four months. The manuals are measured in inches, not pages. The two man crews work in tandem, with the operator searching for targets, yet the real work begins in the computer simulator -- a total reproduction of the actual controls.

"A videogame isn't real. This is real," said Scott.

The simulator shows a randomly generated Middle Eastern city with mosques and bridges, trucks and people. Scott says she needs Slack's piloting experience for missions. Scott calls it "looking for apples and oranges."

"So they're going to help us while we're looking for that specific apple, that specific orange, they're going to help us see through the weeds," said Scott.

The mission was to take out a truck. The satellite connection delays video and movements by two seconds in the real world. That delay is programmed in as the crew narrows the targeting field.

With the laser lock on, the missile is fired and the truck is no more -- just digital destruction preparing trainees for the real thing.

For Slack and Scott, being halfway around the world keeps them safe, but their work makes a difference.

"What we're doing is going to have an impact," said Scott.

"You're supporting those guys on the ground," said Slack. In Iraq, Afghanistan and everywhere the flight of a Predator can take them.

With staff and technology and four planes, the Predator unit costs $30 million, a drop in the bucket for military spending.

Captain Slack says while she enjoys her work, she wouldn't mind getting back into the F-16 at some point.

But for potential pilots of a younger generation, flying the Predator is very appealing, some sensor operators are just 19-years-old. The future is here.

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