In the seventies, the aviation technical press was full of stories about the unmanned aircraft and its future potential. Pilots were aghast. How can they fly aeroplanes without that all important man in the loop, they argued. Machines are all very well but decision making must be left to the human in the hot seat; after all, that person is a PILOT!
Even the most superficial study of commercial airline accidents shows that the majority of accidents are caused by human error. Logically, it therefore follows that if the human is removed, the accident rate will decline.
In the nineties, after it was announced that commercial aircraft could be flown perfectly safely without a pilot, the public became a little concerned. To placate this concern it was agreed to still control the aircraft from the ground but put a pilot and a dog on each flight deck. The role of the dog was to bite the pilot if he tried to touch anything and the task of the pilot was to feed the dog.
Pilot sensitivity about unemployment continues and has been aggravated by the rise of the unmanned aerial vehicle. The UAV has been accepted nomenclature for ages but those poor, under threat and insecure pilots needed to emphasise that although unmanned, there was still a pilot in the loop hence, a platform name change to remotely piloted air system or RPAS.
Alas that security blanket has been largely removed as the USAF is now recruiting non-aviators to fly its UAVs. What, I hear you say, a person flying a UAV who hasn’t got thousands of hours on fixed wing aircraft – how can that be?
If it wasn’t already bad for the pilot fraternity, a recent trials report published in the Journal of Defense Management and authored by a team from Psibernetix Inc, the University of Cincinnati and the US Air Force Research Laboratory has shown that pilots flying against artificial intelligence-based adversaries in a combat mission simulator always came off second best.
It would appear that the fuzzy logic employed in Psibernetix’s ALPHA AI architecture is superior to the brains and experience of our fast-jet jocks. Is this really the beginning of the end of the pilot? Their future is certainly fuzzy.