Monday, July 10, 2017

What Will The Future Of Military Aviation Hold?

A lot of unmanned aircraft.

And this will happen whether you make taking the human out of the cockpit policy or not. But then, even that might be a moot point when you consider that hypersonic flight is itself only five to ten years off as the mainstay of attack aircraft. And once you start going that fast the idea of "dogfights" becomes rather silly, assuming flesh, and bone are still there.

The problem here, in significant part, is that a big part of the soul of our Air Force is having a hand on the stick, feet on the peddles, and the other hand on the throttle. And the fact of the matter is that we have to honor that connection precisely because there was a huge sacrifice put into making it real. A sacrifice all the more important because having that human mind so deeply connected made the difference between success and failure so many times in the past.

As such, the Air Force has got to be, and rightly so, worried about how they're going to preserve a sense of that historic connection; the very thing that is so big a part in getting good people to want make the basic sacrifice of serving their country. Just imagine trying to do that within the now cliche context of the RV pilot using a joystick to occasionally manage the flight of his drone; inside those odes to drab military efficiency: the portable RV control module. Yeah. That just reeks of "Right Stuff," "FlyBoy" machismo.

There is a way to address this however. There is a way to keep a human more deeply connected to the immediate flight environment. Game people have been working towards this for decades now. And of course, I have my own proposal to throw into the mix as well.

What is required here is a VR setup for remote piloting that would give the user as real a dose of the experience as is humanly possible to create. And not only does this make it more compelling for the user, it provides key human preprocessing of on sight reality; something for which the data analysis people, downstream, would almost always appreciate; especially as it provides both immediate heads up, awareness, but also for immediate interpretation feedback, and verification. A win/win both tactically, and in a personnel point of view.

So how do we really, really supercharge this "simulator as remote control" device?

We do that by creating a hybrid centrifuge simulator.

This would of course be a very special kind of centrifuge. First of all, it would have to rotate on vertical shaft at least 100 feet tall. It would then require that the arm of the centrifuge be able to traverse up and down this 100 foot rotating shaft. It would also require that the arm itself be made so that the acceleration capsule (itself a modular unit so that different aircraft configurations would be attached as needed) could be moved from the outer end of the arm, to as close to the center of rotation as it is possible to engineer. The acceleration module itself, once attached, would then be gimbaled for rotation on the three axis of roll, yaw, and pitch. It might be beneficial as well if the centrifuge arm itself could swing through some further cone of motion, as well as move up and down the rotation shaft, but that might be more hassle than it is worth.

In any case, though, with something like this, and the right motion control, inertia management, software (not to mention the best cockpit window graphics you can possibly muster), you could create a flight motion simulator that would knock the socks, and that smug grin, off even the most jacked of stick jockies. And you would also, in the process, make it worth their while to continue "flying."

The main criticism for an approach of this type is certainly how much more critical data link becomes; not only because a larger bandwidth of transfer would likely be required, but also because jamming is a constant concern for all military communications. And in this, in the old days, you could almost alway count on the pilot to bring the bird back. But in this as well, I think, is just further emphasis on what I think may be a deficiency in military planning to date. And that is the over reliance on radio to be the key link for communications.

It has always seemed to me that there should be two, completely separate channels: one radio, and the other line of sight laser.

If you are sceptical of the later option I can certainly understand it, but with only a little reflection I think you can see the need for it. The problem here, of course, is that it is not only jamming that makes our communications vulnerable. It is also the very fragile nature of satellites; growing more fragile by the month it would seem, as everybody now emphasizes having the ability to take the other guy's sats out. Imagine, though, if you will, already having the ability to keep large tactical platforms airborne 24/7, continuously. Platforms that could cruise at relatively high altitudes. If you had a lot of them, all around the globe, providing not only relay services, but sensing platforms for a host of other military, and purely scientific needs, you could have your continual laser web of very high bandwidth communications. That platform being, of course, my hybrid dirigible blimps; automated remotely or not.

In any case, though, I think we owe them this boon to remote flight control; just as much as we owe it to ourselves. It would help them stay connected to what makes flying flying, and it would help us have the very best want to make a needed sacrifice for their nation. Think about it. And then talk to your members of congress. Maybe we could do this as a public works as well? Get a consortium of game companies together to help with the simulation fidelity? Maybe get them to at least do it at cost (I, of course, need no compensation)?

Something to think about.


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