by DAVID AXE
James Curry loves to fly. The US Air Force lieutenant colonel is especially fond of the Boeing-made KC-135 tankers he used to pilot. The 50-year-old aerial tankers — flying fuel dumps, essentially — are “real planes,” he says. “All hydraulics,” as opposed to today’s computerised, fly-by-wire aircraft. Curry describes taking off on a cloudy day and breaking through the cloud cover to the brilliant sunlight up above.
The 38-year-old’s romantic odes to classic flying belie the cutting-edge work he’s overseeing on the front lines of the Afghanistan air war. After his tanker gig, Curry did a stint in Las Vegas steering missile-armed Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) by satellite. That led to an assignment commanding the forward element of the Air Force’s largest combat drone formation, the 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, based at Kandahar airfield, in Afghanistan’s arid south. This summer, Curry and his American and British pilots and mechanics started to combine Predator and Reaper drones with off-the-shelf computers, some secretive research and a little bit of imagination, to invent new tactics for robotic warfare.
The end result: Kandahar just got a little more dangerous for the bad guys, and little safer for Nato troops and everyday Afghans. All thanks to a man and his drones.
(Photo: David Axe)