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Flightless Wings

September 24, 2013

When I was a kid, I really wanted to join the Air Force, and be a navigator.  I knew I couldn’t be a pilot because my vision was too bad.  I ended up going elsewhere for my career, but my interested in airplanes still holds.  So I’ve watched the changes in the Air Force with great interest in recent times.  There’s a lot less opportunity for flying, and a lot more for cyber-warfare, logistics, machine vision, and many other options that ensure the safety of the nation without actually putting people in airplanes to fly them into harm’s way.

So take a look at the next step, courtesy of The Register.

Kids aspiring to become fighter pilots just had their hopes and dreams crushed that little bit more, after Boeing successfully converted an F-16 Fighting Falcon into a pilot-less aircraft.

“While in the air, the QF-16 mission included a series of simulated maneuvers, reaching supersonic speeds, returning to base and landing, all without a pilot in the cockpit,” the company’s canned statement says.

The video is here, if you’re interested.  Of course you’re interested.  It’s cool.

While I’m sure there is a subset of people who will mourn for the inability to ride a honkin’ jet engine into the face of danger, I view this as an overall positive activity.  Okay, as a mostly positive activity.  Most modern aircraft — especially military — are mostly computer-driven at this point.  To get the maneuverability of the frame, the planes are designed to be unstable without constant changes to the control surfaces.  I’d expect that we’ll see more an more options for remote operation of aircraft.  Sure, there will still be a strong need for pilots.  The capability to jam signals will mean we still need people in cockpits.  Well, that and the FAA will probably mandate that we have people in the cabin over the US, because the FAA is there to do semi-smart things for dumb reasons.

But for now… this is cool, and I look forward to hearing more about work in this area.  Maybe I’ll get to fly someday after all, if only from a chair.

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