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Predator: The Remote-Control Air War Over Iraq and Afghanistan    by Matt J. Martin & Charles Sasser order for
by Matt J. Martin
Order:  USA  Can
Zenith Press, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

'Sometimes I felt like God hurling thunderbolts from afar,' writes Lt. Colonel Matt Martin describing his assignment as the man at the controls of a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) flying missions over Iraq and Afghanistan. In Predator: The Remote-Control Air War Over Iraq and Afghanistan: A Pilot's Story, Martin, with the assistance of Charles Strasser, shares the life of being a MQ-1 Predator pilot.

Used for forward observation and reconnaissance as well as targeted attacks with its two Hellfire missiles, the odd looking, insect-like craft is sometimes thought to be a drone or a robot machine, but it is not an autonomous machine coldly killing according to its programming.

Although they don't sit in a cockpit or are even in the diminutive aircraft, there are flesh-and-blood people who guide it and execute each mission. Not only is the crew on the ground rather than in the air, but they also might be half a world away from the missions they are flying.

In this well illustrated book (16 color photos), one of the men trained to operate the Predator offers a behind-the-scene look at his training and some of the missions he flew. The narrative moves from training in Nevada and California to the author's deployment in Iraq. Martin offers candid and personal insights into a program that was until just recently a largely classified secret.

In fact, because of threats of foreign retribution against pilots of RPA operating in the Middle East, the book had to be altered just before its release and pseudonyms were quickly inserted for some of the personnel appearing in the text in order to protect their identities.

Filled with stories of chasing and attacking armed insurgents in Baghdad and the desert countryside, as well as chilling accounts of the inevitable collateral damage that is part of urban warfare, this book touches all the bases when it comes to discussing RPA operations.

One of the surprises in store for the reader is the realization that unlike conventional aircraft that drop their bombs or fire their missiles and then quickly vacate the area, the Predator pilots witness the effects of their attacks because of the camera the high tech aircraft carries.

A memorable sequence of events the author describes follows a night mission he flew over Baghdad. Using the Predator's infrared sensor, he located the fire that had a squad of soldiers pinned down and then guided a U.S. gunship to the site to deal with the enemy.

After he completed the mission and received the thanks of the commander whose men were pinned down, Martin writes, 'I stood up to stretch and regain my bearings in the 'cockpit' of my aircraft ... Then I remembered that Trish {his wife} had asked me to pick up a gallon of milk on the way home. You see, I wasn't in Iraq. Not yet. I was at Nellis Air Force Base, in Nevada, 7,500 miles from Baghdad.'

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