Future planes may have no pilots, U.S., China race to the moon

Published 8:49 am Saturday, August 29, 2020

In a few years, there will be planes flying without a pilot.

Currently, planes are making take offs and landings with no pilot, just an observer. The Aviation International News has an article about Xwing company having made more than 70 autonomous take offs and landings in a converted Cessna Grand Caravan plane. The company plans to start regional cargo flights in the coming months with an observer pilot on board. They hope to start pilot-less cargo flights in 2022 with just an operator on the ground to handle interactions with the air traffic controllers.

More about artificial intelligence (AI).

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Fortune magazine reported that Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has reported a virtual dogfight between a piloted F-16 fighter plane and one controlled by AI.

The plane controlled by the AI shot down the piloted plane five times out of five. The robotics can take the high, nine g-force maneuvers that would kill a human pilot.

The g-forces remind me of a story that an acquaintance told me many years ago.

He was a WWII pilot who flew a Vought Kingfisher off of a battleship. These pontoon-equipped planes were sent up as observer planes. They were catapulted off the ship and then landed on the water and were picked up by a crane and placed back on the catapult.

He told me that, when he gave the signal to take off, it was the last thing he would remember until he was flying. The g-forces were high enough to cause him to pass out momentarily.

I told him I thought that the pilots would have a high casualty rate, but he said they lost very few.

Now a space note or two.

They are getting serious about the next excursion to the moon. Blue Origin has delivered a mock up of a moon lander to NASA.

They call it an engineering model for testing by the astronauts and the engineers.

It is located at the Johnson Space Center in Texas. It is rather large, standing about 40 feet high and has both descent and ascent elements aboard.

Blue Origin built the descent element, with Lockheed building the ascent one.

There is competition between China and the U.S. to determine who will be the first to establish a presence on the moon.

The U.S. engineers and politicians are concerned that China could be the first and establish a precedent of how operations will be done in space and exploration of the solar system.

In other space news, there is an air leak on the International Space Station (ISS) and they are isolating the various compartments to try to find the leak.

So, all the astronauts are in one compartment until the ground guys can check the pressure drop in each compartment.

In 2021, the Russians are planning to launch a large ISS module for scientific experiments that they have been developing for the last 20 years. It is 43 feet long and weighs 144,000 pounds.

Don Lee, a pilot flying out of Lawrence County Airport since 1970, has been in charge of equipment and grounds maintenance for the last several years. He can be reached at eelnod22@gmail.com