as in many engineering projects the Navy’s UCAV X-47B flight testing and carrier qual seems to have suddenly jumped from baby steps to hyper speed.
Navy officers are very clear on a distinction between the Navy and the Air Force, which insists on talking about remotely piloted aircraft: Navy “unmanned air systems” have operators, not pilots. Of course, the Navy hasn’t been forced to divert a large number of qualified pilots into UAVs, as the USAF has been (Predators and Reapers are the USAF’s second-largest pilot force after the F-16), and will not have to do so for a long time. But the fact remains that flying a UAV with a stick and rudder or any semblance thereof is (to quote an Airbus guy’s comment on the Boeing 777’s back-driven yoke) like putting a steering wheel on a horse. “Pilot” is a bit of a misnomer.
Speaking of pilots, the Navy’s attitude towards adopting the X-47B’s automatic landing technology for manned operations is quite positive. The potential benefits — less wear and tear on airframes and less training time for the air group, along with improved safety — are substantial.
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Wired has a different set of thoughts and more questions here. Wired sometimes seems to confuse the world of war with the world of tech and the world in general with the blue coasts of the US but they do a good job of tracking the tech and monitoring for hubris.