4 those of U who want to know what it's like to operate a fixed wing UAV professionally, this is a good read, after work. U think a few thousand bucks in a tried & true fixed wing gets U a bulletproof hands off system but it doesn't. They have to watch for icing in flight, check weather before flight, verify thousands of systems, troubleshoot glitches, fix balky radios, & test fly before the actual mission.
This is all after the grants are awarded, the debt is monetized, & the gear is at the location. The autopilot is not from Shenzhen KDS or Shenzhen Dajiang Innovation but Oregon of all places.
They use the same Goog Earth tools U do. Their aft mounted propeller gets damaged by rocks thrown up by the landing gear. They take off & land manually using 2.4Ghz RC controllers before switching to autopilot. When was the last time U did a manual takeoff? They use iridium satellites for long range radio. They still cross their fingers every time they fly beyond line of sight.
Like all grad school, the real challenge is not designing the experiments or solving difficult equations but troubleshooting sensors, swapping dead batteries, & stopping water intrusion.