The Future is Here: The Pilotless Fighter Jet

QF-16sGoogle may be developing driverless robot cars, but Boeing already has a small fleet a fighter jets that do not require a human pilot. These retired and refurbished QF-16s were turned into special drone craft for use by the US Air Force. But before anyone gets nervous, it should be noted that these specialized drones are strictly flying targets that are meant to assist with aerial combat training.

The test flight of one of the QF-16s took place last week and included an auto-take off and landing as well as an array of aerial maneuvers. The highlights of this test flight were a barrel roll while pulling 7 G’s, climbing to an altitude of 12,000 meters (40,000 feet) and accelerating to a speed of Mach 1.47. All the while, the plane was controlled by two Air Force test pilots on the ground.

drone-strikeIncorporating the latest in unmanned controls, these fighter jets will act as more realistic targets than the older generation of QF-4 unmanned aircraft – which are refurbished F-4 Phantoms. Whereas these Vietnam-era fighter craft are incapable of keeping up with modern designs, F-16s are capable of supersonic speeds and 9-G performance, which should help hone pilots for real-world combat missions.

While this is in many ways is just an upgrade on existing methods, it also represents a big step forward in terms of automation and drone warfare. With greater refinements in the technology and a more effective range, it may be possible to remotely pilot any and all combat aircraft in the not-too-distant future. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) may come to mean all aircraft, and not just Reapers and Predators (pictured above).

And of course, Boeing has produced a video of the QF-16s test flight. Enjoy!


The Most Ambitious Skydive in History

Skydiving is something that just about everyone contemplates at some point in their existence, but few of us really get around to. In fact, I’d wager that just about every “Bucket List” that has ever been made has skydiving on it, most likely in the top ten. However, just about all of these “controlled descents” involve a tandem jump with an instructor, and rarely exceed ten to fifteen thousand feet.

But imagine, if you will, that a certain extreme athlete named Felix Baumgartner sought to attempt the most ambitious skydive in history by jumping from a staggering 120,000 feet. That would place him at the very edge of space, making it an stratospheric HALO jump and the longest freefall in human history to boot. As the culmination of Red Bull Stratos Project, the jump will involve a balloon, a space suit, and a chute which will not be deployed until he is well withing Earth’s atmosphere.

Already, Felix has performed his test flight, jumping from a staggering 96,000 feet to test out his suit, the ascension balloon, and all the assorted equipment that is making this jump possible. However, the 120,000 feet will be distinguished by being the jump that breaks not one, but four world records.The first three were all set by a U.S. Air Force Captain named Joe Kittinger, who accomplished the highest skydive, manned balloon flight, and longest freefall in human history back in 1960.

However, Felix’s jump will also accomplish something which no human being has ever accomplished. In the course of his jump, his body will accelerate to to supersonic speeds, making him the first human who has ever broken the speed of sound without the use of an aircraft. Even NASA scientists say that they have no idea what effect this will have on a human body, though it is assumed that his spacesuit will protect him from the worst effects of it. And by the time he reaches the lower atmosphere, wind resistance should slow him down enough that by the time he pulls his chute, his organs won’t be turned to pulp from the sudden deceleration.

The big jump was scheduled for this morning; unfortunately, the jump was aborted at the last minute due to weather. For this jump to be successful, Felix must be jumping into conditions where there can be no clouds, storms, and wind speed closest to the ground are no more than 3.2 km/hour. Seems kind of finicky for a man risking life and limb to break so many records, but what do I know? I’m not an extreme sport, HALO jumping daredevil!

Check out the footage from Felix’s test jump below, and stay tuned for more updates on this historic jump: