The Civil War Connections Blog

Then & Now: Sailors and Drone Pilots

You may have seen or heard some news clips floating around over the past year or two about resistance in the Air Force between fighter pilots and the newer profession of drone pilots.  You may have thought that this was another tale of the interesting debate of how technology has come to affect the jobs of people. But what you may have not realized was that this debate has been going on long before computers and remote control airplanes.


During the Civil War and pretty much the entire 19th century there was very similar debate.  The debate was between sailors and the new profession of ship engineers.  With more and  more technology and machinery being adding to ships during the 19th century more and more engineers were needed aboard these vessels.  The following was printed in a 19th century edition of Harper’s Weekly:


When sails practically disappeared
from the modern war-ship it seemed to
many that the work of the sailor-man
was to be a thing of the past, and that
the engineer, the stoker, and the soldier
would take the place of man-o’-war


Now compare this to what has been written about the tension between fighter pilots and drone pilots.  Last year on NPR’s website there was an article about the future of the Air Force.  The following was printed as part of that article:


Until recently, most drone operators were regular Air Force pilots. Now, the service is reaching out to people who’ve never even flown before. And that has caused friction within the Air Force as it tries to redefine what it means to be a pilot.

“There’s still a lot of animosity. You see people in a conventional aircrew that wonder why we get to wear the flight suits even though we don’t leave the ground, why do we need flight physicals, why do we get incentive pay — stuff like that,” he says.



This quote shows how the Air Force is experiencing a similar divide within their ranks. In the Harper’s Weekly‘s article it goes on to describe how many of the recent change to ships have been for the better and that sailors will remain valuable.  I predict the dispute between fighter pilots and drone pilots will follow the trend of history and both will be integral parts to a successful Air Force.




“BOATS AND BOAT-SERVICE IN THE NAVY.” Harper’s Weekly. 1896.