Planes have become less and less dependent on the crew flying them. Back in the early days, transcontinental planes would need not only two pilots, but also a navigator, and an engineer. Using hundreds of analog instruments they managed to aviate across oceans. Today the largest planes in the world can be flown with just two pilots. The advancement of cutting-edge avionics and precise autopilots has taken a lot of duties out of the pilot’s hands. The future of aviation, unfortunately, will also start to see the end of the human pilot. The military has proven that drones are a viable option for dangerous missions, when a pilot’s life might be at greater risk.
Already the military is starting to phase out the use of human pilots. It has been said by many that the latest generation of fighters, the F-22 and the F-35, might very well be the last human controlled jets. These planes can already perform maneuvers that a human would not be able to withstand. The net generation fighters will most likely be controlled from the ground and not have a soul on board. The Navy’s newest toy, the X-47B, has already proven it can land and take off from a carrier.
Drones are not just being used in far off wars however. The FAA is currently working on creating an airspace system that can fully integrate drones. I am not sure how this is going to work with visual separation and such, but I hope that they figure it out. Someday we will be sharing patterns with aircraft that are completely autonomous. Will they be able to make radio calls and announce their positions at non-towered airports? Or will it be up to pilots to avoid drones? They can get very small, so this seems highly unlikely and dangerous.
Drones will soon be joining us in the airspace over America, and I, for one, feel uneasy about that. Comment your feeling below.