Secured inside a room you need a U.S. passport to enter is a modern arcade of war machines.
It looks like a gamer’s paradise: A comfortable tan leather captain’s chair sits behind four computer monitors, an airplane joystick with a red “fire” button, a keyboard and throttle control. The games here have great implications. Across the world, a $20 million Gray Eagle drone armed with four Hellfire missiles, ready to make a sortie into hostile territory is taking commands from a workstation like this one. A graduate from this room on the campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach could be in that other room in as little as six months with a degree in piloting drones, his hand on the joystick, making $150,000 a year.
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What is a drone?
The name — From the sound of the early planes made flying overhead.
How they’re flown — Remotely, never a pilot on board but sometimes by satellite.
How big are they? Small enough to fly through a window or as large as an airplane.
How much do they cost? Gray Eagle spy plane 56-foot wing span costs more than $20 million. A Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Quadricopter controlled, about 2 feet by 2 feet and controlled by your tablet or smartphone goes for $299.99 on Amazon.
How many in U.S. military? Nearly 7,500 at last count in January 2012. The budget jumped from $667 million in 2002 to more than $3.9 billion.
Source: Congressional Research Service