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The Future Just Arrived, and It Stinks..

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Well-known member
Nov 25, 2001
From the Landings web site:


The X-45A Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle technology demonstration aircraft completed its first flight at Edwards AFB in California's Mojave desert May 22.
The X-45A flew at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, reaching an airspeed of 195 knots and an altitude of 7,500 feet, performing one loop.

"This first flight successfully demonstrated the UCAV's flight characteristics and the basic aspects of aircraft operations, particularly the command and control link between the aircraft and the mission-control station," a spokesman said.

"This flight represents a steep jump in our quest to mature the technologies, processes and system attributes required to integrate UCAVs into the future Air Force," said Col. Michael Leahy, DARPA's UCAV program manager. "UCAVs will effectively and affordably perform extremely hazardous missions, such as suppressing enemy air defense, while greatly reducing the risk our aircrews have to face."

The demonstration aircraft is a combined effort involving the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the U.S. Air Force and lead government contractor, Boeing, who received a three year $191 million contract to build it. UCAV's are not only unmanned but are pre-programmed and not (necessarily) controlled by anyone on the ground.

The Air Force envisions sending them into harm's way in flights of four, carrying 250 lb bombs (which have the explosive force of today's 2,000 lb bombs) to suppress enemy radar or armaments before manned aircraft arrive.

Later this year, a second X-45A will begin flying, leading to the start of a multi-aircraft flight-test demonstrations next year. The coordinated flight tests are the technical heart of the program and the key to unlocking the transformational potential of the weapon system, said program officials.

Further testing will continue to explore the boundaries of intelligent unmanned combat operations, culminating in 2006 with UCAVs and manned aircraft operating together during an exercise.

The next step is the X-45B, which is currently being designed. According to program officials, the X-45B will be larger and more capable than its predecessor and will incorporate low-observable technologies. The X-45B will be a fieldable prototype aircraft that will lay the foundation for an initial operational system toward the end of the decade. ":eek:

As much as I hate to say it, I think that the F-22 and, if we're lucky, the JSF, will be the last manned fighters ever produced by the US.

Hard to imagine the comraderie of a bunch of silicon chips doing shots of Weed at roll call...

F-15 vs. F-16? He!!, how about fighter pilots vs. computers?
Hmmmm… me thinks we’ll still have a job in the morning, no need to call off the hunt just yet.

It seems that every so many years military aviation technology takes a great leap forward immediately followed by the BOHICA crowd.

Relax my friend we won’t go quietly into the night.

Weasel ;)

Unmanned vehicles will keep U.S. flyers safe

by Leona C. Bull
senior staff writer

Brig. Gen. Dan Leaf was dodging Serbian anti-aircraft fire over Kosovo while flying combat missions in an Air Force F-16 last year.
These days, Leaf is studying how the U.S. Air Force might fly such sorties in the next decade with miniaturized, pilotless bombers that would keep U.S. flyers safe.

The new Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle, a prototype of the 26-foot long, boomerang-shaped craft, will roll off Boeing's assembly line in September and undergo testing next spring.
If it meets its expectations, the remote-controlled bomber could affect everything from how many bases the Air Force needs.
The Air Force already has identified one potential mission: Replacing manned fighters assigned the dangerous job of destroying enemy surface-to-air missiles.

Few see a day when high-tech drones will make pilots obsolete, like the horse cavalry of the 19th century. But a growing number of experts see a role for a plane that is cheaper to build and maintain and puts fewer pilots at risk. The Air Force and Navy currently use pilotless airplanes, known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, to gather intelligence and locate targets. A logical step, both services say, is to see whether UAVs can carry bombs and destroy targets.

The technological challenges are daunting but manageable, say officers assigned to develop the new plane, which would be controlled by satellite relay, refueled in flight and able to fly day or night.

Boeing's slate-gray prototype is designed to fly as high as 40,000 feet (above the range of anti-aircraft guns), drop 12 miniature ''smart bombs'' and fly as far as 1,000 miles. From the side, the UCAV resembles a giant, winged manta ray. From above, it looks like a flying W with a sharp, pointed nose. It resembles other ''stealth'' aircraft designed to evade radar.
The Navy is working separately to develop an unmanned bomber. In the next few years, it also hopes to develop a next-generation remote-controlled plane for reconnaissance missions.

The ''Vertical Tactical UAV'' looks like a windowless helicopter and could be launched from the tight confines of surface ships.
A pilotless bomber is appealing to military planners who face a future of ever-more expensive fighter jets and a public conditioned to the kind of high-tech, low-casualty combat it witnessed during the Persian Gulf War, when 14 aircraft were downed and 20 airmen died from hostile fire.

Capt. Rand Lebouvier, who oversees UAV systems for the Navy, views unmanned bombers as a future niche for all the services. They won't replace manned aircraft altogether but could perform ''dull, dirty and dangerous jobs,'' Lebouvier says.
Another main appeal of the UCAV: its price tag. Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Leahy says the Boeing model is projected to cost about $10 million vs. $30 million for the Joint Strike Fighter, which is to replace the Air Force's aging fleet of F-16s. There are other potential savings. The Air Force devotes about 10 percent of its fighter force - eight F-16 squadrons -- to disabling enemy surface-to-air missiles.

But the UCAVs could carry more bombs, which would result in a smaller force of planes. Support personnel also would be reduced.
''This would have some enormous ripple effects,'' predicts Bill Hoge, a retired Air Force planner. An important ripple effect could be a reduction in military bases because UCAVs are much more compact than current combat planes. Even without unmanned bombers, Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters says his service has too many bases. The excess space will grow in a few years, when the F-22 and Joint Strike Fighter are scheduled to replace the F-16, F-15 and A-10 with a force of several hundred fewer fighters. Air Force officials downplay the other major change many envision with the advent of unmanned combat planes - the disappearance of pilots.

Leaf and Gen. John Jumper, head of the Air Force's Air Combat Command, discount the threat to a culture centered around the people who fly.

''We're a long way from doing away with pilots entirely,'' says Jumper, who oversees the Air Force's fighter and bomber force from Langley Air Force Base, Va. ''Certainly their influence and population might decrease. But they are still the heart and soul of what we do.''
F-15A vs F-15C?

Eagleflip, I noticed you say you flew F-15A-D. I am just curious of the differences between the A & C. Are they huge? Can you talk at them on this board? Are they as significant as the F-16A vs. C?
Just curious.
A--older radar (in days of old prior to upgrade), slightly less internal fuel, lighter overall weight. Better nose authority and rate in BFM. At one time, no CMDs or ICS (jammers).

C--more gas, newer avionics, bit more weight.

Lines got blurry when ANG got old As and radars and RWRs updated. Don't know for a fact but believe all combat coded Eagles have an ICS now. So...an updated A and a C are very similar. Much easier to transition between airplanes (basically transparent) than to a Viper guy going from block to block.

Fly safe,

Hey, He asked ME...


As much as I hate to say it, Albie is exactly correct...;)

About the only consistent way to visually determine the difference between the two models (now that the Guard has been upgrading their jets) is that the A model has very straight gear. The C model's gear is very slightly canted to the outboard.
Nothing like flying an o'c-130 slick.........job security......I don't see the pilot's in the transport world being replaced by a computer any time soon......
I agree...I doubt computers will ever replace pilots on pax-carrying aircraft. I use the A320 Airbus crash as an example....remember when the computer on that aircraft was supposed to override any "mistakes" made by the pilot, but instead the computer flew the airplane into the ground in front of an airshow crowd in France?

At the very least, I doubt that manned combat aircraft will disappear entirely too. A set of human eyes is invariably useful. I see a time when unmanned drones are supplemented by manned attack aircraft, the drones perhaps aiding or being controlled by the manned aircraft. But the first few generations of UCAVs will likely be smaller fleets that will be used in higher-threat environments, with manned aircraft still being dedicated to the lower-threat arenas and important senstive targets.
And if the pilots are gone, who is going to have sex with the flight attendants? :D (The female ones, that is.....)

Sidebar: Former Flying Tiger Capt describes life as a newhire out of JFK (JetBlue country!) in late 80s. Crashpad is a huge old place restored by Capt and turned into a great crashpad for 20+ folks...always a party. Wife calls said young FE and female FA answers phone (pre-cell phone days...). Wanting to protect FE from schedulers, she asks "may I ask who is calling?" Anyone married knows how wives HATE to be asked THAT question! Wife predictably goes through roof.

Upon return home after trip, our FE actually says "...did I FORGET to say my new crashpad was Co-Ed?" :p Yes...sometimes I do forget the details.

Fly safe.
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Looking at what General Jumper has to say in the July 2002 "Air Force" magazine, I'm liking UAVs/UCAVs less and less all the time. I for one have no interest in spending a career, after the first ten years or so, as a "UCAV systems operator" - we can only hope that the F-22 and F-35 are funded long enough to get them both into operational units. I'd bet that if the mainly non-flier types have their way the next generation of "low" aircraft in the high/low mix will look a whole lot more like the X-45 than the JSF.

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