Monday, July 13, 2009
From 40-Mile Hops to Round-the-Clock Pilotless Flight [Fred Schwarz]
The era of U.S. military aviation began 100 years ago this month. Check out the specs that the Wright brothers had to meet:
July 27 : Orville Wright, with Lt. Frank P. Lahm as passenger, performed the first official Army flight test at Fort Myer. They flew for over an hour, meeting one of the specifications for a military airplane.
August 2: The Army accepted its first airplane from the Wright brothers after the aircraft met or surpassed all specifications in flight tests at Fort Myer. The Army paid the Wrights the contract price of $25,000 plus $5,000 for speed in excess of 40 miles per hour.
August 25: The Army leased land at College Park, Maryland, for the first Signal Corps airfield.
October 26: At College Park, after instruction from Wilbur Wright, Lt. Frederick E. Humphreys and Lt. Frank P. Lahm became the first Army officers to solo in a Wright airplane.
November 3: Lt. George C. Sweet became the first Navy officer to fly when he accompanied Lt. Frank P. Lahm of the Army on a flight at College Park. Lt. Sweet was the official observer for the Navy at the trials for the Wright Flyer.
You have to wonder what Orville would have thought of a military aircraft that not only can fly without a pilot and perform complicated maneuvers, but can stay aloft for days and be refueled in mid-air:
The original DARPA test has an F-18 fighter, modified to operate without a pilot, equipped with new refueling software and hardware, that was able to successfully refuel in the air. The new air force and navy systems are going to use UAVs (an Air Force X-45C, and a Navy X-47B) to get refueled. With this capability, a UAV can stay in the air longer, and no longer have to spend several hours returning to base, landing, refueling, and taking off and returning to its patrol area.
. . . the first generation of [robotic] aircraft will be remotely controlled from the ground, or another aircraft, most of the time. . . . But the new generation of robotic (as opposed to remotely controlled) bombers will receive their orders, and then be sent off to do the job (with a human flight commander observing it all remotely, ready to abort anything not going according to plan).
The in-flight refueling is necessary because unmanned, as well as manned, aircraft can carry more weapons if they can refuel during the mission. For UAVs, such refueling enables these aircraft to stay in the air for days at a time. That's what UAVs are built for. Since fighter pilots have to sleep, and their aircraft are not built for round-the-clock missions, UAVs have a major edge.
These systems use a manned tanker to refuel the UAV (with automated refueling software), but research on UAV-to-UAV refueling is already underway.
07/13 02:01 PMShare