Lt. Col. Ian Milne had more combat time flying ‘Predator Drone’ than 20 years as Air Force pilot

In 2010, 17 years after Lt. Col. Ian Milne of Burnt Store Isles near Punta Gorda, Fla. retired from two decades of flying the hottest fighter-bombers in the U.S. Air Force’s arsenal, he was recruited by the military to retrain as a “Predator Drone” pilot during the “War on Terror” in the Middle East. He jumped at the opportunity.

The General Atomics MQ-1 “Predator” is one of the Air Force’s newest killing machines. It carries an array of secret surveillance weapons and is equipped with a couple of “Hellfire” missiles specifically designed to obliterated enemy buildings, cars and individuals with the push of a button by an operator thousands of miles away in the U.S.

Milne became the man with his finger on the trigger of a “Predator.” He flew many top secret missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya as a member of the 18th Reconnaissance Squadron. He doesn’t talk about his combat mission with the drone.

“I saw more combat in the three years I flew drones than I did flying jet fighters for 20 years in the Air Force,” the 65-year-old retired fighter pilot said. “It was very interesting flying the ‘Predator.’ It was a handful for me even though I had flown fighter planes for years.

“The crew for a ‘Predator’ is a Pilot, Censor Operator and a Mission Intelligence Coordinator. The Pilot and the Censor Operator sit in a room a little bigger than this one with a battery of computers on the wall. They monitor eight TV screens while typing on three keyboards in front of them.”

They worked out of Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. All the website for the facility says about the base is: “They are engaged is daily Overseas Contingency Operations of remotely piloted aircraft systems which fly missions across the globe.”

Milne’s job was to sit behind a computer keyboard for hours at a time paying attention to TV screens showing in real time what enemy combatants were doing on the ground a continent away during the “War on Terror” in the Middle East.

He and his Censor Operator are given a facts sheet and coordinates of a specific target of interest they are to check out with their “Predator.”

“We’d fly our drone to the target. Then we’d set up a circular flight path around the target and spend a lot of time looking at what was going on on the ground,” he explained. “We’d establish a dossier on the people moving around on the ground. At the same time that I’m flying my ‘Predator’ at 18,000 feet over the target our helicopters my be circling at 3,000 feet and a C-130 gun ship could be flying over the target too. High above it all our fighters could be circling at 20,000 feet.

“If they decided to take out a target there are several ways for them to proceed. “They can tell us to use our ‘Hellfire’ missile on board the ‘Predator.’ Or they can bring in the C-130 with its Gatling guns or use ground troops that fly to the target in helicopters. They can also call in our fighters-bombers to do the job.”

Who makes the decision to attack the target or not?

“That decision is made by headquarters back in Tampa at Mac Dill Air Force Base. They have a monitor just like I have. They can watch what’s happening on the ground over there in real time. The decision is made by the battle staff at Central Command headquarters.”

One of the toughest things about flying a “Predator” in combat in the Middle East is getting use to the 24-hour daily operation. At times Milne would have to sleep during the day so he could be behind his monitors all night long. When it’s dark in the U.S. it’s daylight in Afghanistan.

He officially retired from the “Predator Drone” program in 2013. Milne and his wife, Maggie, moved to Punta Gorda from St. Petersburg that same year. His daughter, Jody, lives with her family in San Antonio, Texas. Maggie has a son and daughter, George and Andrea, who live in Winston-Salem, NC. They have two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren who also live in the Winston-Salem area.

This is Milne today at 65. Sun photo by Don MooreName: Ian McCulloch Milne
D.O.B: 25 March 1951
Birthplace:  Leeds, England
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: Commissioned in 1973
Discharged: 31 Dec. 1993
Rank: Lt. Colonel

Commendations:  Meritorious Service Medal w/4 Oak Leaf Clusters (OLC); AF Commendation Medal w/2 OLC; Small Arms Marksmanship Ribbon w/Pistol; Combat Readiness Medal w/2 OLC; AF Longevity Service Award Ribbon w/4 OLC; National Defense Service Medal w/1 Service Star; AF Overseas Long Tour Ribbon w/1 OLC; AF Overseas Short Tour Ribbon; AF Training Ribbon; AF Outstanding Unit Award
Unit: 613th Tatical Fighter Squadron, Spain; 527th Aggressor Squadron, Europe; 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron, South Korea; 63rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Fla.;  Advisor Florida Air National Guard.

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, March 20, 2017 and is republished with permission.

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Ian Milne flew this F-16 Falcon fighter for Mac Dill AFB and other bases around the world. Photo provided

Ian Milne flew this F-16 Falcon fighter for Mac Dill AFB and other bases around the world. Photo provided

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