“Wait, you guys practice tracking enemies by using civilian cars?”

Then there is the fact that the movement shown on a drone pilot’s video screen has over the years been seconds behind what the drone sees — a delay caused by the time it takes to bounce a signal off a satellite in space. This problem, called “latency,” has long bedeviled drone pilots, making it difficult to hit a moving target. Last year senior operatives with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula told a Yemeni reporter that if they hear an American drone overhead, they move around as much as possible. (Military officials said that they have made progress in recent years in addressing the latency problem but declined to provide details.)

Stationing pilots in the United States has saved the Air Force money, and pilots at Holloman who have flown drone combat missions speak glowingly about a lifestyle that allows them to fight a war without going to war. Craig, an Air Force captain who is a trainer at the base, volunteered to fly Predators while in flight school. He calls his job “the perfect balance of mission and family.”

And yet this balance comes at a cost. Pilots have flown missions over Afghanistan in the morning, stopped for lunch, fought the Iraq war in the afternoon and then driven home in time for dinner. Lt. Col Matt Martin, formerly a trainer at Holloman, wrote about the disorienting experience of toggling among different war zones in a memoir, “Predator,” calling the experience “enough to make a Predator pilot schizophrenic.”