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Navy stealth bomber drone  (Source: IBtimes)
Navy stealth drone take to the skies

The Air Force gets a large portion of the funds allotted to military spending in order to develop costly new aircraft programs and to maintain existing aircraft. The Air Force is still in the middle of a bidding process to replace the aging aerial tanker fleet in use, and last September the USAF also announced that a new bomber was critical for the defense of the nation.

When the USAF first mentioned the need for a new bomber the rough outline was for a conventional bomber built on existing technology that would be purchased in larger numbers than the current B-2. The USAF is now scaling back their vision for that aircraft in the face of a tough budget crunchDefense News reports that the Air Force has noted that its plans for the bomber will be less ambitious than it previously envisioned. 

The lowered expectations for the new bomber will allow the USAF to better manage the program and will make it easier for the contractor that builds the aircraft to deliver on their promises.

General Norton Schwartz said, "We're not going to be as ambitious as we perhaps were at one time." He continued, "And that kind of thing will make it easier for us to manage and less challenging for industry to keep their promises."

The Air Force might lower initial costs by making the aircraft easy to upgrade later in its operational life for new capabilities. For instance, the aircraft doesn't need nuclear capability now, but later it might. The bomber would be built with the space needed for wiring and hardening for electromagnetic protection so it can be cheaply upgraded for nuclear payloads. 

While the USAF is being less ambitious about its future bomber, the Navy is hitting a milestone with its new unmanned stealth bomber. The X-47B is a stealth bomber that looks like a shrunken down version of the B-2. The Navy has announced that the aircraft has taken its maiden flight

Capt. Jamie Engdahl, program manager for the Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration said, "Today we got a glimpse towards the future as the Navy's first-ever tailless, jet-powered unmanned aircraft took to the skies."

The maiden flight for the X-47B lasted 29 minutes and the aircraft flew at up to 5,000 feet with landing gear down. The flight is the first in a series of 50-flights planned for the year of testing. Once the first plane finishes its testing, the second aircraft will start and after testing is completed the aircraft will be sent to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station for the rest of the carrier demonstration program.

Rear Adm. Bill Shannon, Program Executive Officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons said, "We are breaking new ground by developing the first unmanned jet aircraft to take off and land aboard a flight deck. This demonstration program is intended to reduce risk for potential future unmanned systems operating in and around aircraft carriers."

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RE: unmanned bombers
By Iaiken on 2/10/2011 6:33:22 PM , Rating: 2
It's a lot more complicated than that... :P

I held a glider license from when I was 16 till 26 and the amount of learning was not only ridiculous, but gave me a much better idea of the forces at work in flight than powered flight would. Having flown several prop driven aircraft a few times, it's a trivial challenge in comparison to unpowered flight.

I can only guess how large of a quantum leap moving from simple powered flight to jet fighter aircraft would be considering the speed and extreme maneuvers they are capable of. Especially when you add in adverse conditions and the stresses of combat.

Most the of the avionic information that I learned through ground-school and practice at that age was only not beyond me because I was working through first year university physics at the time. I doubt that your average "some kid playing xbox" would be able to take a similar grasp of the concepts. Choosing university grads is mostly because they will have the intellectual base required for these concepts and a maturity level that allows the military to feel comfortable with entrusting a multi-million dollar aircraft to their hands.

RE: unmanned bombers
By nafhan on 2/11/2011 11:46:18 AM , Rating: 2
Interestingly, I've got a similar level of flight experience (gliders + a couple powered flights), and I've probably got a better theoretical understanding of physics than classmates who did become pilots.
I generally agree with you, too. I was more making fun of the fact that a lot of pilots really don't have a degree in a field related to piloting aircraft. It's pretty normal for those wanting to become military pilots to get a degree just to satisfy the requirement that they have a bachelors degree.
If I was going to pick an attribute that's actually most important to being a pilot, it would definitely be attention to detail - noticing the little things that could potentially become a big problem.

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer
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