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The F-35 JSF in all its glory
Lockheed has proposed a JSF that fly by remote control

Lockheed Martin’s new single-engine F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the latest Swiss Army Knife of fighter aircraft for the US military.  The plane, which is destined to replace the F-16, AV8-B, A-10 and F/A-18, will be available in three variants:

  • F-35A: Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL)
  • F-35B: Short Take-Off Vertical Landing (STOVL)
  • F-35C: Carrier Based Variant (CV)

Lockheed is now proposing a fourth variant that it has been working on for the past two years. The design proposal is for an unmanned version of the F-35 that could operate as a hybrid -- that is, it could be configured to either fly by remote or if need be with a human pilot in the cockpit. Many have stated that the F-35 would be the last manned fighter jet for the Air Force as the military has been pouring more and more dollars into unmanned combat systems. Lockheed's proposed unmanned J-35 would bridge the gap between the past and the future of aerial combat. From the Washington Post:

The Pentagon, looking to save money, has accelerated spending on unmanned systems since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. This year, it allocated $2 billion for unmanned aircraft and millions more in the supplemental budget, compared with $363 million in 2001. The figure is projected to reach more than $3 billion by the end of the decade. What has resulted is a hodgepodge of unmanned vehicles, such as small, bomb-seeking robots that can be carried in a backpack, and airplanes that provide surveillance for days at a time. The systems have become bigger and more expensive in recent years, such as the Predator, built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., and the Global Hawk, which has a 134-foot wingspan, comparable to the Boeing 737.

Lockheed has been playing second fiddle to other names in the industry, namely Boeing, when it comes to unmanned aircraft. The price tag of the F-35 program has also ballooned from $201 billion to $276 billion. The price increase along with the government's increasing fascination with unmanned drones is probably why the initial order for 2,000 planes could likely drop significantly in the near future.

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RE: The Golden Age of Aviation is Over!
By Master Kenobi on 8/18/2006 8:45:42 AM , Rating: 2
Well what you need to understand is that while these planes can be unmanned, they will likely have someone sitting in an AWACS at high altitude actually controlling the plane, so real pilots will still be necessary, just you will be able to make manuvers you never thought possible, and if you get shot down, not as big a deal, just link into a new fighter and away you go. Granted its costly to lose a fighter, but it costs more to raise a person, train them, give them experience and give them medical treatment. This way we just need to replace a metal machine and those only take a few months.

By Ringold on 8/18/2006 6:07:42 PM , Rating: 2
"Real" pilots wont be necessary; any high schooler will probably have the skill necessary to control one of these UAVs with training, and not the block-buster budget fighter pilot training necessary for 'real' pilots.

I see real pilots remaining in commercial carriers for quite a long time simply as system managers and emergency pilots for situations where they end up having to fly dead stick -- which does happen. There will always probably be a human at least at the ready to manually take over any kind of passenger flight, but thats somewhat relative anyway. Autopilots can already take off, fly a complex route, and land all on their own. :)

Military wise though, to compare a fellow geek in a dimly lit compound inside a mountain or some place that can do the job with zero risk to their own personal safety to Yeager and even astronauts is almost an insult to them personally :P

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