Warplanes: Droid Wingman Passes Flight Test


April 10, 2007: The British Royal Air Force ran a successful test of flight control software that allows the pilot of one warplane to control up to four nearby UAVs. The U.S. Navy has been working on a similar system. It's all in the software. The UAVs must have software that enables them to do a lot of things by themselves, like flying the aircraft effectively, and being able to understand verbal commands. The French air force pioneered the use of voice recognition in the cockpit. In the 1990s, the French introduced such software, and it even took into account voice distortion under stress (including g stress, as when a fast moving aircraft makes a tight turn.)

The basic concept here is that one human pilot would lead a group aircraft that included one manned aircraft and three UAVs. The human pilot would be the flight leader, and would give orders to the UAVs. The most dangerous jobs, like putting bombs on heavily defended targets, would go to the UAVs. While the UAVs could also be commanded from the ground, or an AWACs, a human pilot on-the-spot would always have a better view of the situation, and be able to make decisions more quickly. That's something combat pilots are trained to do.

However, it will also be possible to send all UAV flights, commanded from the ground or distant AWACs. The next level in flight control sophistication would enable a UAV to engage in air-to-air combat.




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