US Air Force looks into flying robotic multi-engine jet transports

US Air Force looks into flying robotic multi-engine jet transports
The US Air Force is interested in automating its fleet of multi-engine jet transports
The US Air Force is interested in automating its fleet of multi-engine jet transports
View 1 Image
The US Air Force is interested in automating its fleet of multi-engine jet transports
The US Air Force is interested in automating its fleet of multi-engine jet transports

With an eye to taking autonomous flight to the next level, the US Air Force has awarded a contract to Reliable Robotics to study how to turn multi-engine transport jets into robotic aircraft that can handle all aspects of a flight by themselves, from taxi to landing.

For understandable reasons, we tend to think of the armed forces strictly in terms of being fighting units that exist to blaze away on the battlefield. In reality, modern warfare is so mechanized and so complex that they're more like huge supply chains that occasionally do a bit of shooting at one end.

One key component for the United States and its global military commitments is its fleet of transport planes, including the Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy and the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III. These provide the US Air Force with the ability to deliver soldiers and their equipment anywhere in the world in short order and keep them supplied indefinitely.

However, it is an extremely expensive capability to achieve and maintain, and it often means sending air crews into dangerous areas where they may encounter hostile anti-aircraft weaponry. It also requires a large number of pilots, who do not come cheap and are invariably in short supply.

To counter this, the Air Force has hired Reliable Robotics to look into automating existing cargo aircraft. The idea isn't new, but adapting the technology to large multi-engine jet transports flying military supply missions adds another level of complexity.

If the concept works, it will allow the Air Force to improve its cargo missions without the need for training more pilots or building new aircraft. It will also introduce a new level of potential safety because, with improved artificial intelligence systems, autonomous flight computers will be better able to respond to some emergencies thanks to their ability to immediately calculate alternative flight paths, where a human pilot would have to rely on intuition.

The new contract is aimed at producing autonomous flight systems that can handle all aspects of flight, from taxiing to take off to landing, with humans needed only for remote supervision. It will also allow for more precise navigation and more robust flight controls as well as a better ability to manage the aircraft in a variety of environmental conditions.

"We value the Air Force as an essential mission partner," said Dr. David O’Brien, Major General (Ret.), and Senior Vice President of Government Solutions at Reliable Robotics. "Our vision is to provide remote piloting capability to a wide variety of aircraft. This contract furthers our focus on automation of large, multi-engine jet aircraft, which is an important step in our developmental roadmap."

Source: Reliable Robotics

Dean Brock
As a USAF veteran aircrew, and a Persian Gulf Veteran, I reserve the right to say its a bad idea. if there is a shortage of qualified people, lets just eliminate the need for them???? From a human standpoint, a parenting standpoint, a mentoring standpoint, and an education standpoint, it is ridiculous. It would however, allow us to put all the unqualified humans in assisted living (robotically served, of course).
Korean War era F86D aircraft had autopilot ability, after the plane was off the runway, to find the target, and after the pilot pulled the trigger to fire the attack rockets, break away from the impact point, find the runway and bring the plane to within touchdown height. That was in the 1950s. So this doesn't seem like much of an advance 60-plus years later.
I fail to see the point of this exercise. Millions of dollars will be spent on developing the technology just to make two experienced pilots redundant? If we keep up the trend, it’ll be hard for the next generation to find any meaningful work, leading to boredom and who knows what. Maybe it’ll become really exciting to take a weapon and destroy whoever they think might be responsible for their boredom.
In 1947 the US Army flew a C54 from Newfoundland to England under full automatic control. There was a crew on board but they didn't touch the controls at all.
Agree with Dean Brock, Jinpa, 1stClassOPP and anyone else with more common sense than those making crazy, seemingly non-thinking decisions about the defence of the people. It seems it is the governments job to outsource everything to contractors or make something AI. We know the military, no matter which country, loves acronyms, and I can think of a few for AI that do not mean Artificial anything. With the threat of EMP weapons (think of those so-called balloons recently carrying something above your city) to destroy modern day, well, everything. How would children and adults of today manage without the Internet or their phones? So how well would AI aircraft manage to exist in an enviroment where EMP weapons can be employed at little risk to the 'enemy.' Surely any aircrafts electronics can not be protected against EMP?
Nelson Hyde Chick
1stClassOPP, Techology gives on man the abities of a thousand men and then burdens the Earth with the thousand it just made obsolete. In thirty-eight states the most common job is driver of some sort. taxis, Uber, vans, trucks, buses, ertc... In ten to twenty years those jobs will be gone.
Graeme S
Skynet .... Have we learnt nothing?
Maybe a useful project is to rather build a fleet of smaller robotic cargo jets. Redundancy. Relying on a small fleet of massive targets always seeemd dodgy in this age of advanced missiles. The Chinese have fogired this out. Numbers still count. And yeah, the Metaverse better be awesome in 15 years. Its going to have entertain some.pretty bored folk.