Being a flyer myself, I am not too interested in being replaced by machines. I think it is very cool the things that they can do with remotely piloted aircraft, or whatever they are calling them these days, but for now I see them as much as an air hazard as anything. Talk to me after I retire and I may change my song.
That being said, I still find the whole field very interesting, and Northrop Grumman and the US Navy are working to take UASs to the next level. They are working towards autonomous aerial refueling for these up and coming aircraft.
Aerial refueling is an essential aspect of the effectiveness of most aircraft in the military arsenal, so for UASs to reach the next level of usability they are going to need that ability. These early simulations are the first steps in making that a reality for the developmental X-47B.
While the simulations did not involve any real transfer of fuel, they are hopeful to achieve actual refueling by 2014. Leading up to that milestone is successfully demonstrating the X-47B’s ability to safely operate from an aircraft carrier including launch and recovery.
I am not naive enough to think that these platforms will go away. I believe that quite the opposite will happen, and I’m okay with it. There are plenty of missions out there that can be effectively accomplished by airframes with no people on-board.
But, there are also plenty of missions that need to be taken care of by pilots who are physically in the cockpit. Computers and technology can do amazing things, but no matter how hard they try they will never replicate the abilities of the human mind.