When young kids are just learning about airplanes, one of the first things they all do is develop a keen interest in fighter jets. Watch a nine-year-old enjoying a Blue Angels show, and you'll know what I mean.
Along with being a fireman, cowboy, baseball player, or garbageman (don't ask), one of the vocations that most young boys and girls always say is on top of their list of career choices is pilot, and in particular, fighter jet pilot. But with the news out this week about the latest tool in the U.S. Air Force's arsenal, there may soon be less demand for jet jockeys:
The Air Force chief of staff announced "Reaper" has been chosen as the name for the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle. The MQ-9 is the Air Force's first hunter-killer UAV. It is larger and more powerful than the MQ-1 Predator and is designed to go after time-sensitive targets with persistence and precision, and destroy or disable those targets with 500-pound bombs and Hellfire missiles.When the USAF says this gigantic RC plane is "larger and more powerful" then the Predator, they are NOT kidding:
A 900-horsepower turbo-prop engine, compared to the 119-horsepower Predator engine, powers the aircraft. It has a 64-foot wingspan and carries more than 15 times the ordnance of the Predator, flying almost three times the Predator's cruise speed.They need all that power and performance, because this version of the Predator is not just taking pictures:
"The Reaper represents a significant evolution in UAV technology and employment," General Moseley said. "We've moved from using UAVs primarily in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance roles before Operation Iraqi Freedom, to a true hunter-killer role with the Reaper." General Moseley stressed the key advantage is not keeping manned aircraft and pilots out of harm's way, but the persistence UAVs can inherently provide. The Reaper can stay airborne for up to 14 hours fully loaded.So if UAV technology has evolved to this point, how close have we become to complete UAV squadrons that can blow apart entire cities without the loss of even one U.S. airman's life? And what about UAV bombers, clearly a case can be made to design a RC version of a B1, capable of flight halfway around the globe to deliver it's lethel cargo...without the need for an onboard lavatory or sleeping quarters for timed out crews.
And what if the next generation of aerospace brain childen were to keep this line of thinking moving forward, and propose UAV commercial airliners? Talk about hijack proof....the cockpit would be a sealed pod with no humans in sight. And since this is a full-blown UAV, who needs flight attentants either? You, the passenger, would have to get your own stale pretzels, and the safety briefing that nobody ever watches could be taped. Can't get that overhead bin closed...tough luck, baby, because on UAV Airlines, the ticket is cheap, but you are really REALLY on your own.