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Jetstream Retrofit Illustrates How Close Modern Planes Are To UAVs

timothy posted about a year ago | from the hasn't-anyone-seen-airplanes-I-or-II? dept.

AI 205

cylonlover writes with this Gizmag excerpt: "In April of this year, a BAE Systems Jetstream research aircraft flew from Preston in Lancashire, England, to Inverness, Scotland and back. This 500-mile (805 km) journey wouldn't be worth noting if it weren't for the small detail that its pilot was not on board, but sitting on the ground in Warton, Lancashire and that the plane did most of the flying itself. Even this alteration of a standard commercial prop plane into an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) seems a back page item until you realize that this may herald the biggest revolution in civil aviation since Wilbur Wright won the coin toss at Kitty Hawk in 1903."

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Would you ride in one? (1)

DKlineburg (1074921) | about a year ago | (#44146725)

That is cool, but would you? Is it more safe if the pilot can't be reached?

Re:Would you ride in one? (4, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44146743)

Of course not. You'll be on the ground and you'll be watching the picture from the camera behind your window. First class seats will have better resolution. Economy class seats will have black and white picture.

Re:Would you ride in one? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44146975)

Economy class seats will have black and white picture.

With advertisements, of course ;-)

Re:Would you ride in one? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147557)

Do i still have to get felt up by the equal opportunity types at homoland security?

Re:Would you ride in one? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44147725)

Of course. What if you tried to plant a bomb into the seat for a passenger on a later flight?

Re:Would you ride in one? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147747)

If you pay extra, yeah.

Re:Would you ride in one? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44146769)

depends. How many accidents were the result of human error compared to accidents from mechanical failure that even having a pilot wouldn't have saved?

Re:Would you ride in one? (2)

Z00L00K (682162) | about a year ago | (#44147593)

And when someone successfully hacks the system and takes over the aircraft?

Re:Would you ride in one? (5, Interesting)

GrumpySteen (1250194) | about a year ago | (#44146787)

At this point? No. In the future? Probably.

If you fly commercial air flights, you already trust your life to most of the technologies involved. As the article mentions, "larger aircraft have autopilot systems that can control takeoff, ascent, cruising, descent, approach, and landing." An unmanned flight was the logical next step in the progression.

I don't think we'll see passenger flights without pilots anytime soon, but you might begin seeing flights where you have only a co-pilot on board. It would be a long time before there would be enough evidence that the pilots weren't needed and the majority of the public would trust the systems enough to be willing to fly.

Re:Would you ride in one? (4, Insightful)

mikerubin (449692) | about a year ago | (#44146831)

Would the "majority of the public" have a choice?

Re:Would you ride in one? (4, Insightful)

second_coming (2014346) | about a year ago | (#44147153)

Yes, they could choose another airline that keeps pilots as a marketing ploy.

Re:Would you ride in one? (3, Insightful)

wvmarle (1070040) | about a year ago | (#44147171)

Yes. This would almost certainly be a democratic decision by the flying public, on whether to go pilotless or not. Thanks to the forces of economics.

There are numerous airlines in this world, and most routes (at least the popular ones) are served by multiple companies. The smaller routes don't count much in this picture, and those are likely to be the last to be automated, for there are less savings to be made. Also volume is just a fraction of that on the main routes.

Now if one company moves to pilotless flights, presumably to undercut the fares of the competition, the public has an obvious choice. If they accept the lower fare for a pilotless flight, the rest will follow. If they do not, the pilotless airline will have to reinstate their pilots or go out of business.

Re:Would you ride in one? (2)

sjames (1099) | about a year ago | (#44147377)

Or more likely, the other airlines will go pilotless but stuff some guy in an old uniform to act as a greeter and then sit in the cockpit while trying to look important.Then they'll run the commercials about how much they care about you.

Re:Would you ride in one? (4, Interesting)

jbwolfe (241413) | about a year ago | (#44147507)

With the current retirement age already at 65, and efforts to raise it again to 67, I think we are already where you suggest- old guys in ice cream suits. When I got hired at age 32, I was excited, but soon realized I would have to do this for a long time (age 60) before I retired. I wondered if my body or mind would give out before then- radiation exposure, embolisms, poor diet, working during WOCL, physical inactivity. As if it hasn't already...

Every pilot starts out with two buckets. One is filled with luck, the other empty of experience. Fill the experience bucket before the luck bucket runs out.

Re:Would you ride in one? (1)

Gr8Apes (679165) | about a year ago | (#44147631)

Until the first crash....

Re:Would you ride in one? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147711)

Now if one company moves to pilotless flights, presumably to undercut the fares of the competition, the public has an obvious choice. If they accept the lower fare for a pilotless flight, the rest will follow. If they do not, the pilotless airline will have to reinstate their pilots or go out of business.

The list prices for a 787-8 is US$206M, and for a A350-800 it's US$245M; a Bombardier CS100 is $62M. For the 787, it costs about $25 per nautical mile to fly.

The cost of pilots is fairly insignificant IMHO.

Re:Would you ride in one? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147337)

I been told by people in the know that the "pilots", are there to taxi and to respond when the auto-pilot can't handle something. We all saw how well that worked on the Air France flight from South America.

According to what I saw on Frontline about the incident, there was one maneuver that the pilots needed to make within 20 seconds to gain control of the plane. They did not do this and the fate was sealed. If the auto-pilot had been programmed with this those people would likely be alive today.

Re:Would you ride in one? (0)

_Shad0w_ (127912) | about a year ago | (#44147387)

And how well it worked on US Airways Flight 1549...

Re:Would you ride in one? (4, Interesting)

jbwolfe (241413) | about a year ago | (#44147595)

The autopilot was flying the plane. At least until it lost needed data to do so. Then as programed, it relinquished control to the only known entity that could cope- human pilots. The error was in flying into the storm in the first place. Thereafter, with conflicting data, the pilots made numerous further errors which aggravated their distress to the point of stall. In large swept wing aircraft, stall recovery is a long process and requires patience and often thousands of feet of altitude loss, while operating in alternate or direct flight control laws (not particularly easy). The rapid descent and threat of impact with the ground did not foster patience and the flight crew was inadequately trained in stall recovery, making the outcome more certain.

As a result, and to my dismay as an Airbus pilot, Airbus have modified their stall recovery procedure to retard thrust to idle- contrary to every thing pilots are taught from the very first stall.

The final mishap report makes very interesting reading (as do most reports): http://www.bea.aero/docspa/2009/f-cp090601.en/pdf/f-cp090601.en.pdf [bea.aero]

Re:Would you ride in one? (1)

anegg (1390659) | about a year ago | (#44147683)

I am not a pilot nor am I trained in aviation. My impression of the Air France disaster was that it was caused, in part, by an incorrect mental model of the situation in the mind(s) of the pilot(s). The pilot at the controls was making control inputs that didn't make sense for the situation, but he wasn't an idiot, so he must have not understood the situation. It didn't seem to help matters that the aircraft systems quit warning about a stall when the systems could not make sense of the sensor inputs, then resumed warning about a stall when the sensor inputs started making sense, possibly causing the pilot to think he had just initiated a stall (again) instead of beginning the process of recovering. It seemed like the senior pilot finally figured it out at the end (too late).

Is my understanding possible or am I way off-track?

Re:Would you ride in one? (1)

jbwolfe (241413) | about a year ago | (#44147847)

They had attitude information, but no air data (altitude, airspeed, vertical speed). They were also, for a time, making dual and contrary inputs to the flight controls (sticks are independent and dual inputs are added together, one full up and one full down equals zero). Without air data, avoiding stall and recovering was made significantly more difficult.

However, they did recognize stall. They just failed to execute a proper recovery. They needed to hold the nose down for much longer to build airspeed before pulling up again. They ended up in stall after stall and ran out of time.

Re:Would you ride in one? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147471)

The single step of going unmanned adds a whole slew of failure points, many of which will have limited redundancy. Aircraft are build to a fairly high quality standard with a lot of configuration management and control over the system. When you make it unmanned you now add a whole bunch of things you have limited control over to your aircraft system. Now instead of having some mechanical levers and gimbals to transmit commands to your quadruple redundant flight control computers, you have to have a data link which is coming in via radio, probably via some sort of satellite link. Even if you have two separate receivers and antenna you now have to include the satellite, the ground transmitters, all the cables, wires, computers, fiber optic links, air-conditioning systems, power cables, power plants, etc. to your failure matrix.

Re:Would you ride in one? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147567)

This is hardly a new idea. A generation ago it was predicted:

The cockpit of the future will have seats for a man and a dog. The dog's job is to bite the man if he touches anything. The man's job is to feed the dog.

Re:Would you ride in one? (1)

timeOday (582209) | about a year ago | (#44148051)

If you fly commercial air flights, you already trust your life to most of the technologies involved. As the article mentions, "larger aircraft have autopilot systems that can control takeoff, ascent, cruising, descent, approach, and landing."

Flying is the ultimate in trusting technology, even before the autopilot. You are suspended in the air by nothing but the reliability of the engines to keep you from dropping 30,000 feet into the middle of the Pacific ocean, thousands of miles from any help. The fact that we amazingly no longer even perceive this as "technology" just shows how trustworthy technology can become, over many decades.

Re:Would you ride in one? (5, Interesting)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about a year ago | (#44146799)

If it ever gets approved to civilian passenger use, the flight deck would be impregnable from the passenger cabin. All controls will be locked and so even if a terrorist gains access he/she would not be able to direct the plane to high value target. At this point all you they can do would be to crash the plane, which can be done without trying to get to the flight deck. But destroying a passenger airliner in flight would get them big headlines and attention. That is basically what the terrorists want.

Destroying two towers and damaging one building is nothing for a country the size and might of USA. Compared to devastation of WW-II Dresden, Berlin, Stalingrad, Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hiroshima etc, 9/11/2001 does not even qualify as a flea bite. But 9/11 made more headlines and more news than all the impact made by WW-II news in its day in the prized demographics of the terrorists.

The reaction of the media, and hence the public, is like an auto-immune reaction or allergy reaction. Some harmless pollen grains are detected in the bronchia and the body responds as though it is being invaded by the Ebola virus. So even after we deny the ability of terrorists to fly fully fueled planes into buildings, the media reaction for an attempted terrorist attack, no matter how successful, no matter how far fetched, would ensure the terrorists get their oxygen: publicity.

What we really need to prevent terrorist attacks is large doses of anti-histamine. Just ignore the terrorists, their attempts, their successes, their failures. Only when develop the collective ability to deny them publicity we will win the war on terrorism.

Re:Would you ride in one? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44146865)

Uninterruptable power supply, but who will change the fuse, who will push the reset button, or reboot the computer. Shucks folks, my GPS is off by 200 foot, and 50 foot in elevation. There have been drones that have gone down, and remote control aircraft have gotten lost, so whats to say?

Re:Would you ride in one? (4, Insightful)

tlambert (566799) | about a year ago | (#44146891)

If it ever gets approved to civilian passenger use, the flight deck would be impregnable from the passenger cabin. All controls will be
locked and so even if a terrorist gains access he/she would not be able to direct the plane to high value target.

You are assuming that the terrorist would be on board the plane. Iran was able to capture a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 operated by the CIA using an attack on the remote location and command and control systems.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran [wikipedia.org] –U.S._RQ-170_incident#Capture_of_the_drone

Re:Would you ride in one? (2)

jklovanc (1603149) | about a year ago | (#44148115)

That is an unsubstantiated claim by Iran. It is equally as possible that there was a glitch in the system and the drone auto landed. If Iran had the ability to capture drones electronically there would be a lot of drones being captured. It is an attempt by Iran to embarrass the US and it worked pretty well.

By the way, please check you link before posting Here [wikipedia.org] is the correct one.

Re:Would you ride in one? (1)

citizenr (871508) | about a year ago | (#44147199)

If it ever gets approved to civilian passenger use, the flight deck would be impregnable from the passenger cabin. All controls will be
locked and so even if a terrorist gains access he/she would not be able to direct the plane to high value target.

planes are fly by wire nowadays, there is no need to touch flight sticks, those are just potentiometers with force feedback, plane brain is in the lower decks next to cargo hold.

Re:Would you ride in one? (1)

slew (2918) | about a year ago | (#44147479)

planes are fly by wire nowadays

Fly by wires isn't the same as fly by wireless which what it would be if you didn't have pilots (unless they went the way of the old "TOW" missals which were connected by fiberoptic cable).

Given the possibilities of jamming and hacking, I think there is less of a chance of a flight deck issue than other ways of hacking/jamming...

Re:Would you ride in one? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147431)

Destroying two towers and damaging one building is nothing for a country the size and might of USA.

The North Tower, South Tower, the Marriott Hotel (3WTC) and 7WTC were completely destroyed. The U.S. Customs House (6 World Trade Center), 4 World Trade Center, 5 World Trade Center, and both pedestrian bridges connecting buildings were severely damaged....

The Deutsche Bank Building across Liberty Street from the World Trade Center complex was later condemned as uninhabitable because of toxic conditions inside the office tower, and was deconstructed. The Borough of Manhattan Community College's Fiterman Hall at 30 West Broadway was condemned due to extensive damage in the attacks, and is being rebuilt. Other neighboring buildings including 90 West Street and the Verizon Building suffered major damage but have been restored. World Financial Center buildings, One Liberty Plaza, the Millenium Hilton, and 90 Church Street had moderate damage and have since been restored.

The Pentagon was severely damaged by the impact... source [wikipedia.org]

also two Boeing 767 jet airliners ($160 million each) [wikipedia.org] and a Boeing 757 jet airliner ($65 million) [wikipedia.org]

The attacks resulted in the deaths... of 2,977 victims. ...In 2001 dollars, U.S. stocks lost $1.4 trillion in valuation for the week. [wikipedia.org]

Conservative estimates put the final cost between 3 and 5 trillion dollars. Not only was it absolutely something for a country the size and might of the USA, the attacks hurt every country and every person on the planet.

Re:Would you ride in one? (4, Insightful)

AJWM (19027) | about a year ago | (#44147837)

Yes, the initial costs were high, but most of the costs you cite are reaction costs. How much did a week of grounding all airlines cost? How much does additional TSA infrastructure cost? How mush of that $1.4 trillion lost stock valuation was real vs just numbers in a computer, and how much of that was due to panic reaction?

As the grandparent pointed out, if we'd reacted with the attitude "shit happens, deal with it" (as was, for example, the attitude in Britain after the first few days of the Blitz), that final cost would have been far smaller; still 3000 lives, but probably less than $0.01 trillion dollars.

As OP alluded to, bee stings don't kill people, the anaphylactic shock reaction does.

Fuck No (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44146803)

That is cool, but would you? Is it more safe if the pilot can't be reached?

There is no greater motivator to avoid crashes than having the driver up front and first to die.

There is no way I'm getting on a plane that is controlled by somebody in a ground based armchair, sucking on Slurm, and not facing any personal risk. If the driver doesn't have skin in the game, I'm not riding.

Pilots are a must for passenger aircraft. I'm not sure about cargo, but I'm leaning toward requiring pilots there too. Especially if they are to share airspace with passenger aircraft.

Re:Fuck No (2)

MightyYar (622222) | about a year ago | (#44146827)

You are already depending on the ground controllers to keep the planes from slamming into one another. To say they have no "skin in the game" is only true if they are sociopaths. Most people would not recover from the mental anguish of killing hundreds of innocent people.

Re:Fuck No (2)

denobug (753200) | about a year ago | (#44148013)

You are already depending on the ground controllers to keep the planes from slamming into one another. To say they have no "skin in the game" is only true if they are sociopaths. Most people would not recover from the mental anguish of killing hundreds of innocent people.

Pilots can refuse the instructions by the tower by announcing their inability of compliance. Ultimately the pilots have the final say on the plane, not the ground controller.

Re:Fuck No (2)

swalve (1980968) | about a year ago | (#44146909)

A large percentage of people make stupider decisions when adrenalin and fear are involved.

Re:Fuck No (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147325)

You must have very little faith in your fellow humans. I think it would be a rare person who wouldn't be motivated to save the lives of hundreds of people who were entrusted in his care. When you get on that plane, you are already trusting the work of the people who build and maintain the plane, and those people don't stand to die in the crash. By your own admission that means you should not be willing to fly ever, unless the pilot built the plane himself. This motivation business is entirely a red herring.

The only thing that matters is the price per life saved of putting pilots on planes. If that price becomes, say, 100 million dollars, then you'd be much better off just accepting the risk and then spending those resources on better health care or better safety systems in your car or something like that. Even if you are the sort who cannot accept those kinds of calculations, there will come a point where having pilots will only make matters worse. At that point, it's not even about economics, it's just about not being the moron who risks his life on piloted planes for no good reason. What should keep passengers safe is not the heroics of individual pilots or other people - if you get to the point where individual heroics are needed or even at all relevant, something has already gone terribly wrong. What keeps passengers safe is the complex system of all the people and machines involved. Focusing on just the pilot and ignoring all the rest is not useful to keeping passengers safe.

Re:Fuck No (1)

jbwolfe (241413) | about a year ago | (#44147685)

You must have very little faith in your fellow humans. I think it would be a rare person who wouldn't be motivated to save the lives of hundreds of people who were entrusted in his care.

OTOH, the unthinkable has happened: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EgyptAir_Flight_990 [wikipedia.org]

This is an example of why having pilots pass through TSA security is unneeded- a constant irritation for me. A proper in-depth background check is all that is necessary, accompanied by ongoing review.

Re:Fuck No (2)

LynnwoodRooster (966895) | about a year ago | (#44147873)

You must have very little faith in your fellow humans. I think it would be a rare person who wouldn't be motivated to save the lives of hundreds of people who were entrusted in his care.

OTOH, the unthinkable has happened: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EgyptAir_Flight_990 [wikipedia.org]

This is an example of why having pilots pass through TSA security is unneeded- a constant irritation for me. A proper in-depth background check is all that is necessary, accompanied by ongoing review.

You, too, can do what pilots do. I do. It's called TS PreCheck [tsa.gov] , and as a result, I show up at the airport (LAX usually), walk to an at-most 2 person line, drop my bag and cell phone on the belt, and walk through a metal detector. Security takes less than a minute, even if I have to wait for one other person in the lane. No removal of shoes, or taking off my coat, or taking my laptop out of my bag, etc. Just walk through a metal detector like back in the 90s...

I'm always surprised at the number of people who don't know about this, nor use it. I guess one thing to be thankful for is that I never have to wait for security, and I can arrive at the airport ~30 minutes before my flight starts to board, and am always at my gate just before boarding starts...

Re:Fuck No (1)

jbwolfe (241413) | about a year ago | (#44148007)

Indeed, there's something even better than that for me: Known Crewmember checkpoints. However, not all airports have these. TSA PreCheck is for passengers/ticketholders. I'm speaking as a badged, background-checked, finger-printed pilot that is annoyed by the fact that I must pass through security screening to make sure my nail clippers are legal, and I'm not carrying pepper spray. Were I to wish ill to my passengers, I would not need a weapon. Some pilots enroll as an FFDO and carry weapons just to avoid this annoyance.

BTW, just saying "I don't need a weapon" to a TSA agent will require additional screening and perhaps result in arrest. It has happened.

Re:Fuck No (1)

LynnwoodRooster (966895) | about a year ago | (#44148291)

I personally don't understand half the rules. I just recently returned from China, on American Airlines (heading back in another 10 days). Got bumped to first class. Ordered the chicken for dinner. Got the meal, a 4.5" long serrated metal knife, a solid metal butter knife, and two metal forks. Why should I worry about carrying on a knife when I can just book a first class ticket and have the airline hand them to me?

Re:Fuck No (3, Interesting)

RevWaldo (1186281) | about a year ago | (#44147461)

One thing I wondered after 9/11 and the addition of 'reinforced cockpit doors' is whether pilots actually need access to the cabin at all. Imagine they have a separate entrance onto the plane, and are completely sealed off from the cabin once in flight. (They get all the other basic necessities of life - food, coffee, restroom, etc. - already with them up front.) Additionally, unless officials on the ground feel they need to know, the pilots have no clue what's going on in the cabin - no CCTV feed, no intercom, no cell phones, no nothing. Terrorists could be threatening to slaughter the passengers like sheep, but the pilots aren't informed. So despite the risk to the passengers, the terrorist could never get control of the plane, making an attack on a plane pointless in the first place.

Good idea? Bad idea?

.

Re:Fuck No (1)

jbwolfe (241413) | about a year ago | (#44147767)

Great idea. Its called secondary barriers. And currently, ALPA is exerting great effort on the legislative front to mandate installation in commercial aircraft. IATA and Airlines for America (A4A) (is that not the stupidest name you ever heard?), are busy fighting this. Like most safety features, it costs money, which eats into profits. Gotta keep those ticket prices at historic lows...

Terrorists could be threatening to slaughter the passengers like sheep, but the pilots aren't informed.

Sorry to inform you, you are on your own back there. You will have to go postal on them yourselves. Nothing, absolutely nothing, will get that door open if there is any threat in the cabin. But just in case a bad guy (or any uninvited person for that matter) gets into the cockpit, he may well be looking down the barrel of an H&K as a hollow point exits at supersonic speed. Next time you get a chance, note the warning placards posted on the cockpit doors.

Re:Fuck No (1)

demonlapin (527802) | about a year ago | (#44148243)

The restroom is a bit of a problem - flight crews currently use the ones at the front of the plane. The aisles are blocked with drink carts by the flight attendants while this happens.

Re:Would you ride in one? (4, Funny)

citizenr (871508) | about a year ago | (#44147055)

Of course not! It would be like riding in elevator without a lift man.

Wrong question (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147113)

That is cool, but would you? Is it more safe if the pilot can't be reached?

The right question is: is it more safe if the pilot isn't afraid for his/her own survival?

The Miracle on the Hudson likely wouldn't have been, if the pilot hasn't been sitting in the front of the plane.

Business Case Fail (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147167)

Yes, but only if they're as well built as they are now. If this is flying over your house, do you want it to be just as safe as a manned aircraft? Absolutely. So, will it require design and manufacturing to aerospace standards? Will it require specially trained maintainers just like airplanes? Will it require specially trained operators? Now here's where it gets more expensive instead of less expensive. Will they be more or less complex than manned airplanes? More complex, since you have to add the complexity of the communications between the ground station and the aircraft. Those communications links will have to be as robust as the data buses in fly by wire manned aircraft. All of the sudden, this is now more complex and more expensive than manned aircraft. It's not at all surprising that Global Hawk has an oh my god price tag. The only thing it doesn't have that a manned aircraft does is seats. It's still got pressurization and environmental controls.

Re:Would you ride in one? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147211)

Basic common sense -- the first plane that crashes without a pilot will be blamed on remote piloting no matter the source of the crash.

Solar flairs, disrupted communications etc etc would be problematic.

What about discrepancies with instrumentation vs what is seen with the pilot's eyes?

What if interactive action is required -- rebooting of on flight computers, failure in landing gear, damage to flaps, etc etc.

Why would you ever remove the pilot? -- you still need a pilot on the ground to do this -- so it is not saving money? -- so is this for pilot safety only?

What if communications are intercepted/taken over -- banks cannot seem to eliminate electronic bank fraud so we are supposed to put out faith in remotely piloted airliners?

What is more disturbing is that this could be used to a 9/11 (2001) Redux from a 3rd party country who has hostile intentions or allows 3rd party control of the plane in the last few minutes.

This is an interesting experiment but not very practical.

BTW this was accomplished before with the Boeing 720 crash tests in the past.

Re:Would you ride in one? (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | about a year ago | (#44148357)

you mean like now when the cockpit is hermetically sealed from the passenger cabin?

Computers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44146735)

Now, if we just can get them computer controlled, we can get rid of pilots - at least for airlines.

It WILL happen one day - a day not too far away.

Actual piloting will be for private aircraft.

Re:Computers (3, Insightful)

some old guy (674482) | about a year ago | (#44146875)

Until the first robo-Airbus slams into a mountain due to a minor hardware failure, program bug, or solar storm.

That's why automated mass transit trains still have operators on board and GPS-navigated ships still have deck officers.

Re: Computers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44146969)

Well, in Copenhagen we have had unmanned automated metro in operation since 2002. And no, there is no train steward ready to take over.

Apples and oranges... (2)

Gription (1006467) | about a year ago | (#44147023)

So how far does that train fall before it hits the ground if something fails? Just turning it off isn't a catastrophic failure.

- - - - -

You take the human systems out of the plane and you aren't just dealing with the failures you observed with the previous system. You have changed the system so you are changing the possible failure points.
One simple example: "Portable EMP generator."

Re:Apples and oranges... (1)

demonlapin (527802) | about a year ago | (#44148255)

Just turning it off isn't a catastrophic failure.

Until it slams into another train while coasting to a stop...

And no, having it automatically stop isn't a perfect solution, either, because then it becomes the target rather than the projectile.

Re:Apples and oranges... (1)

Gription (1006467) | about a year ago | (#44148299)

Until it slams into another train while coasting to a stop...
. . .

Because when coasting it is magically going to hit another train that it would miss if it was still going full speed?
... but maybe if it was going 88 miles per hour!!!

Re:Computers (1)

bigtrike (904535) | about a year ago | (#44148279)

The fully automatic modes have to be much better than humans before people will accept them. If you ride in the front train of a Chicago CTA train, you can hear the overspeed warning beeping from the operator cabin about every 10 seconds. If the operator ignores it, the train will automatically shut down to prevent the train from derailing.

who would have thought! (2)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year ago | (#44146753)

who would have thought that remote and autonomously controlled airplanes are airplanes!

Not for me (1)

NobleSavage (582615) | about a year ago | (#44146755)

I like the pilot IN the plane!

Re:Not for me (1)

Mike Frett (2811077) | about a year ago | (#44147691)

Nobody has said anything yet but, one reason an Aircraft is saved from a crash is because the Pilot is actually in the Aircraft. With no Pilot, there is less incentive to save an Aircraft, or any man-made machine for that matter. The Pilot has a 100% survival rate. And you all know this.

Software is eating the world (1)

Lech Rzedzicki (2828773) | about a year ago | (#44146763)

It happens in every area, not just planes - self-driving Google cars, robots manufacturing Macbooks in US, 3d printers building houses etc. The good part is everything will be cheap(er), from transport to entertainment, even housing. The bad part is a lot of 'average' people - taxi drivers, accountants, even lawyers will lose their jobs. And if we change nothing, the money is going to capital owners, not the people that lost those jobs. So it will be cheaper from today's perspective, but not more affordable to all those people who lost their menial jobs, as they will no longer have the jobs and no disposable income either. This is not only bad for them, but bad for the whole economy.

Re:Software is eating the world (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44146833)

Poor lawyers. Yes, I can see a deluge of tears being shed for them.

Re:Software is eating the world (2)

MightyYar (622222) | about a year ago | (#44146837)

What did all of those taxi drivers do before taxis? What did the accountants do before the income tax? My read of history is that there will be short-term pain, but ultimately people will move into jobs that take advantage of our reduced need to spend time producing necessities.

Re:Software is eating the world (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44146911)

My read of history is that there will be short-term pain, but ultimately people will move into jobs that take advantage of our reduced need to spend time producing necessities.

As yes, that magical "They'll just go on and do something else."

Like what?

That was back in the days when folks were able to go from one manual labor job to another manual labor job like running assembling stuff; or loading the machine while another person operates it, or down the line to move out product.

As we automate more, there are less jobs for people. If you can 5,000 workers at a plant and replace with robots, not all of them are even needed to repair those robots. You just need a small fraction of them.

Right now, the only industry where I see an increasing demand of workers on at all skill levels is medical. And a LOT of people realize this. In a few years, we will be seeing a glut of medical workers from nurses assistants all the way up to doctors - because people have smelled the coffee and realize that's pretty much the best way to go to keep a middle class life.

There's a glut of people in IT AND software engineering - all those businessmen bitching in the media are full of shit or they're looking for the Purple Unicorns.

When my company has openings for software engineers: BSCS (required!), C#.NET, SQL, and the rest varies with position - we get over a hundred resumes - all qualified.

Re:Software is eating the world (2)

sjames (1099) | about a year ago | (#44147445)

They were carriage drivers. Before income tax, there were no spreadsheets and even tabulators were dreadfully expensive so corporations had to hire a hell of a lot of accountants just to run the adding machines.

Consider, if we are at all successful at automating away work, at some point we can only realize that leisure if work hours are reduced for the same pay rather than just having fewer people working the same or longer hours. The last time there was a significant reduction in the average work day that didn't involve starvation ages it took the threat of a communist revolution to accomplish it.

Sadly but typically, the ones most willing to dismiss the 'short term pain' are the ones who won't feel any of it (or who don't believe they will). Consider, to me, you getting your testicles caught in a vice is just a little short term pain and perhaps a minor disability (can't be too bad, he'll be back to work in a month). To you, it might not look like a worthwhile risk.

Re:Software is eating the world (4, Insightful)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#44146849)

And yet automation has made a lot of jobs obsolete while hugely improving the standard of living overall.

Re:Software is eating the world (1)

PPH (736903) | about a year ago | (#44146869)

Cheaper? How so? They still have to pay the pilot, whether she is siting on the ground or not.

I guess it could get cheaper if they can have one pilot supervising a dozen flights. Over mid-ocean, there's not much to do. So stagger the flight times and have them land/take off another plane elsewhere. Rotating shifts could be an advantage on long flights. At the end of eight hours, hand over the controls to a ground center where the pilots are wide awake on local time.

Re:Software is eating the world (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44146967)

Cheaper because you don't have to pay for hotel rooms or food for the flight crew, cheaper because you don't have to cancel flights because the only aircrew left in town just went over their 8 hour max because of the weather ground hold, cheaper because people are willing to work for less when they get to be at their own bed each night.

Re:Software is eating the world (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147011)

This is **exactly** how military UAV flights are controlled. The vehicle goes autonomously to and from the target, and a human pilot only takes over at the drop zone. In the military you have one pilot controlling over 20 aircraft. I can't see why similar numbers couldn't be realized with commercial flights

Re:Software is eating the world (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147511)

You also get to take out the controls from the cockpit and replace that space with paying customers. I wonder what kind of premium people would be willing to pay to get front-row seats. Probably more than they pay in coach. I also imagine that seats are less expensive and lighter than the panels that are currently in cockpits. Eventually you won't even need a pilot on the ground at all anyway.

Won't get on a plane where... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44146771)

the pilot doesn't have as much to lose as I do.

If the plane were to get into trouble, somehow I don't think a remote pilot (who's safe on the ground in an underground bunker) will fell the same urgency to get the plane safely landed as I or a pilot, that is in the plane, would.

It's just human nature: the remote pilot might have other things on his mind like is it quittin' time and time to get home to the wife and a beer or answering that latest text message from his girlfried..

In other words, no fuckin' way would I ever get on a plane that was remotely controllered.

Re:Won't get on a plane where... (2)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about a year ago | (#44146841)

No shit. Also: Now the "terrorists" don't even have to be on board, they can just hack the control system remotely.

Re:Won't get on a plane where... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44146977)

Can't they do that already though? Don't most commercial airliners already have a "remote control mode" ever since 9/11? (Because we think it would be safer to have that.)

Re:Won't get on a plane where... (1)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about a year ago | (#44147029)

I didn't know that. Thanks. I feel safer already.

This kind of technology has been around for ages (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44146829)

9/11 was an inside job.

This is really an extension of WWII technology. (1)

roarkarchitect (2540406) | about a year ago | (#44147005)

There is nothing really unique about this - the concept has been around since WWII. It just wasn't reliable. Read about Operation Aphrodite. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Aphrodite [wikipedia.org]

Tangent - SAGE (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147015)

I know you all probably know of a lot more examples of machine-controlled airplanes, but I recently came across one through an acquaintance who worked in the SAGE [wikipedia.org] program in the 1950's. The program directed interceptors to threats like bombers. Ground personnel monitoring a CRT scope of assets and radar targets would use some kind of light-based pointing device to touch an interceptor and a target to have a 58,000-tube, building-sized, 3 megawatt IBM AN/FSQ-7 [wikipedia.org] computer to calculate the best route for intercept. Pilots then begrudgingly gave control to DaLi (Data Link) which fed the vectors to an autopilot.

I don't see the point (1)

rossdee (243626) | about a year ago | (#44147037)

I don't see the point of a remotely piloted passenger plane.

UAFVG's are useful in military situations, but not for civilian use.

(OK maybe remotely piloted C130 for chasing hurricanes, or other dangerous weather, or dropping supplies to Antarctic stations.)

Re:I don't see the point (1)

mounthood (993037) | about a year ago | (#44147101)

Unlimited replacement pilots.
Pilots don't have to travel.
Local pilots who know an area can assist or take over.
AI can be integrated, or even replace the pilots without much of a change. ...

Re:I don't see the point (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147189)

I don't want to be the beta tester though. No way I'm getting into one of these airplanes unless there has been at least 10 years of successful operation before.

Re:I don't see the point (2)

jbwolfe (241413) | about a year ago | (#44147407)

Your points mentioned above are valid except I'd argue this one is not fully considered:

AI can be integrated, or even replace the pilots without much of a change. ...

The abstraction of real time data given to a remote pilot is a real cost to be considered, given that many aspects of flight are dynamic and unpredictable. For example: routing through weather, mountain wave, multiple system failures, OCF (out of control flight), avoidance of traffic, sequence and separation, wake turbulence, are just a few issues that are diminished by remote piloting. And AI would need to come a long way to even approach the capacity humans possess to react to these types of variables.

While drones have been operating for quite some time, they have lost quite a few to exactly these issues.

How is this new? (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about a year ago | (#44147067)

The US Airforce has been flying older jets via remote control for decades as part of the drone conversion programme to allow for air to air and surface to air missile testing and training - currently they are on the early F-16s after expending the F-4 inventory.

The pilot is my insurance (2)

YoungManKlaus (2773165) | about a year ago | (#44147081)

Because if he crashes then at least he also dies ... so kinda extra incentive not to crash ;)

But when one of them does crash... (1)

macraig (621737) | about a year ago | (#44147139)

... so much for the captain of the ship going down with it, eh?

Unless these remote pilots are sitting in full simulators that force them to share the terror of passengers during an uncontrolled descent - if you know you're going to live regardless what happens to the plane and its contents - then it removes just a bit of visceral motivation to avoid it happening, doesn't it?

1903, Kitty Hawk and all that stuff (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147169)

Come on /. can't you get some basic facts right?

The Wright Brothers flew at 'Kill Devil Hills' and not Kitty Hawk. Kitty Hawk was where the nearest Post Office was located. Here the news was sent to the outside world.

As A Limey, even I know this bit of American History so why hot the /. editors whi I would imagine reside on the western side of the Pond.

As a regular flyer and have been involved with the aircraft industry for 40+ years and currently working in an Airport I have to say that I for one wouldn't get on a plane without two guys/gals up front. What happens when the Taliban/other bad guys jam the sigan from the ground then? The plane is flying without a pilot. End result, a crash.
I am sure the likes of SleazyJet and RyanAir would be interested in this technology, especially the latter Air Line.
IF RyanAir could fly a plane where everyone was standing and packed in like a Northern Line Train in the Rush Hour I'm sure they would. Taking the Pilot/Co-pilot away reduces the unpaying load of the aircraft. This means more passengers.!

There is no way I'd fly with SleayJet or RyanAir anyway.

Airlines will love this. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147231)

Because then the airlines will be able to employ "pilots" that are sitting in a room in Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, where the supply of labor is plentiful and the wages of pilots substantially less.

Re:Airlines will love this. (1)

jbwolfe (241413) | about a year ago | (#44147331)

Believe me when I say this is already happening. These constant competitive pressures to reduce costs resulted in Colgan 3407 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colgan_Air_Flight_3407 [wikipedia.org] , where inexperience and fatigue resulted in lost lives. And another example is Qantas' efforts to start an Asian subsidiary to subvert Australian pilot jobs as a cost saving measure.

I would hope the flying public considers safety rather than only seek the lowest price.

And what's the point? (1)

jbwolfe (241413) | about a year ago | (#44147235)

As an example, consider AF447 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_France_Flight_447 [wikipedia.org] . While the outcome of this mishap was largely due to mistakes by the pilots prior to penetrating the weather and afterward by misapplication of controls during stall, it is highly doubtful that a remote pilot could ever have effected a recovery, even if he was not responsible for getting into this situation in the first place. The abstraction of kenesthetic data might someday be improved enough to make a recovery like this possible, but What's the point?

Going to all this trouble to remove, that is move, the pilot from the cockpit to a remote location gains what exactly while eliminating all that is made possible by manning the flight with trained and experienced flightcrew.

Re:And what's the point? (1)

kumanopuusan (698669) | about a year ago | (#44148245)

Pilots could work normal shifts and you could change your flight crew in the middle of the Pacific if they were tired or in case of a medical emergency. For some reason, the people that we depend upon the most to be alert and make important decisions, like doctors and pilots, don't seem to get enough sleep.

Rubbish (1)

MiG82au (2594721) | about a year ago | (#44147313)

"...this may herald the biggest revolution in civil aviation since Wilbur Wright won the coin toss at Kitty Hawk in 1903."
What hyperbolic bullshit. Not only have standard piloted planes been remotely controlled for decades (as opposed to specially designed UAVs), but I'd say that reliable flight in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) was a bigger revolution.
This is merely a small stepping stone to remote flight that's reliable enough for regular public transport. It's not a fucking revolution. But noooooo, we need page clicks.

Captain Obvious (2)

fnj (64210) | about a year ago | (#44147379)

Captain Obvious is annoyed that you woke him up to tell him the blindingly obvious news that pilots are going the way of the buggy whip - just like automobile drivers and ditch diggers.

Captain Obvious also has some further thoughts for you. It's not just the pilots who are going away. Why should business travelers and even the general public want to fly about from place to place when there are cell phones? Hmmm? Already you can see as well as hear anybody anywhere in the world with a reasonably recent cell phone. Do you really think they won't be adding touch, taste, and smell via direct nerve stimulation? Why do you have to waste time and limited and expensive energy to go see your mother or go on a date? This way you won't catch a cold from your mother sneezing, and you can have a date with anybody, be adventurous, you can't get herpes or worse. Travel accidents, illnesses, and threatening confrontations are so old fashioned.

In fact, why get out of bed at all? Most jobs are obsolete anyway, and I wouldn't be so sure that IT and corporate officer jobs can't be automated too. Your robotic equipment can keep you nourished in bed and stimulate your nerves to keep your muscles toned and inject medicaments to keep clots from forming.

Why go to the trouble of seeking new experiences or exploring in the flesh? Robotic explorers make ever so much more sense. You can always catch the omni-sense documentary of the exploration.

Re:Captain Obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147611)

You overlooked our education system. There will always be a need for somebody to orhastrate the destruction of our ability to think.
And teachers are always flying somewhere to and from vacations or conferences.

Why Travel on Business? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44148109)

Simple. There is a whole lot of stuff that can't be done remotely.
I travel to the Middle East every two weeks for my Job. I have face to face meetings that in 30 minutes get more done and settled than days on conference/video calls.
When you need to work closely with the people on the ground, using a mobile phone/video phone really does not cut it.
Then there is all the system testing/commissioning.
In the Industry where I work, safety is No 1 priority. After all we don't want planes falling out of the sky now do we.

Even with the best remote access there is nothing even remotely close to watching the systems in action first-hand. Seeing the problems and fixing them in times a lot shorter than those companies that rely soley on remote access as well.

When you can install the hardware and commission it from 2000 miles away, I'll be well retired thankfully.

Union Busting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147401)

Already the American carriers are stumbling all over each other to be the first to implement this in order to break the Pilot's Union.

A next feature will be to replace the Cabin Crew, read Cabin Officers Union, with smartphone enabled vending machines for drinks, sandwiches and toiletries.

Not to worry though as each flight will have a SysAdmin, 30k per year and no benefits, on board for in-flight code debugging so that Microsoft's latest malware doesn't scramble the hydraulic and flight control computers.

Re:Union Busting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44148123)

It won't be the Amercian Carriers who do this first. It will be SleazyJet (EasyJet) or RyanAir.

RyanAir already want to have flight with everyone standing and to charge for using the toilet. Removing the Pilot is the next step.
What RyanAir does, SleazyJet is sure to follow.

Purpose of a Pilot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44147467)

The purpose of a modern airliner pilot is not to fly the airplane from takeoff to landing with all things in their normal state, albeit, that is what a typical pilot does on a typical day. The purpose of a pilot is to fly the airplane safely to the ground when stuff goes wrong either due to some system failure, a severe wind shear, or some other unexpected input. Even on the most advanced commercial airplanes today (Boeing 787, Airbus A380, etc.) there are certain failure modes where the autopilot is unavailable and the basic flight control laws revert to a degraded "Cessna 172" state. To be fair, that is also when an average pilot is most likely to screw up and either not respond or respond inappropriately. So to say we can get rid of pilots because the airplane has an autopilot and an autoland system misses the point of having a pilot in the airplane.

Target identification... (1)

niftymitch (1625721) | about a year ago | (#44147815)

A big pile of stink now begins. It is now impossible to disambiguate a "drone" from other aircrafts.

This may represent a new realization of risk for the paranoid.

Wilbur? (1)

Zawahiri (963352) | about a year ago | (#44147995)

But Orville was the first to fly.

Flying's easy and there's plenty of space up there (1)

sberge (2725113) | about a year ago | (#44148363)

Just came back from today's Sunday trip over Berlin in a small two-seater airplane, and saw a total of maybe 5 or 6 other airplanes. Traffic control was done by a single person as far as I could tell. The cars below on the other hand, were about 10^5 times more numerous, and all at exactly the same height, 0 ft above GND, a height known to be shared with numerous fixed obstacles, bikers, children and drunkards.

An autonomous airplane is in many ways a much easier task than an autonomous car. All obstacles are for all intents and purposes point-shaped and flying under current "instrument flight rules", a pilot is not even responsible for avoiding them, if I've understood the rules correctly. All you need to do is to follow orders from air traffic controllers. The problem is that these orders are dispatched by voice, so if this were to scale one would have to devise a machine-to-machine protocol for that and automate the task of air traffic control.

Your typical smart phone has enough sensors built in for flying. The radio hardware is capable of interacting with secondary radar and instrument landing systems, the gyro/accelerometers are good enough for controlling attitude and GPS is good enough for navigation. Some phones even have the barometer which you will need to deal with pressure altitude, which is necessary under current rules. The camera is good enough for taxiing, take-off and landing. The processing power is more than ample to process the inputs and provide control inputs. The only thing lacking is the ability to interact with air traffic control and tower. And a few servos for the control inputs.

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