Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Eye in the Sky

A General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, popularly called the Predator drone, flies over the southern Arizona desert looking for illegal border crossers and drug smugglers. 

Predator drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles have been in the news a lot in the last couple of years. They're being used with great frequency to kill America's perceived enemies - terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and other places have been struck down by drone strikes. Including at least one American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, killed by a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator over Yemen. The al-Awlaki killing was "extra-judicial," he was killed without the benefit of a trial or guilty verdict.

In 2005, US Customs and Border Protection announced that unarmed Predators would also be used to patrol the US / Mexican border. Pilots would fly the drones from offices in Sierra Vista and Texas. The drones can stay airborne for hours at a time, their unblinking eyes are not supposed to miss anything. The camera array (the bulb in the nose of the aircraft) has high resolution cameras for day and night use. 

But their use has not been without controversy. Several Predators have crashed in the six years they have been flying over the American southwest. Last weekend the Los Angeles Times reported that the Predators have not been very effective along the border. They require a lot of maintenance (one hour of maintenance for every hour of flight time), they're more expensive than initially thought and they don't work too well in bad weather.

I went down to Sierra Vista in October 2005 to photograph the rollout of the Predator. When the story appeared in the LA Times over the weekend I went into my Lightroom archive to find the photos and upload them to my PhotoShelter archive. (I wasn't using PhotoShelter in 2005 and a lot of my older work isn't in my online archive yet.) 

Lightroom has made keeping track of what I shoot, captioning and keywording my photos a whole lot simpler. I shot these photos six years ago. I have about 200,000 photos in my archive. It took me less than five minutes to find these photos. It took another 30 minutes to recaption and edit them. Well under an hour total. Lightroom rocks.