Five Aircraft, One Pilot

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The British military is testing a system that would, essentially, allow a pilot to command his own pilotless wingmates. The system, developed by QinetiQ with funding from the British Ministry of Defense, enables the pilot of a fighter jet to simultaneously control up to four unmanned companion aerial vehicles. According to Technology News, it was tested for the first time last week with the pilot of a Tornado fighter also influencing the movements of a BAC 111, filling in for a UAV, and three simulated UAVs. Despite the absence of actual UAVs in the test, the government called the test a success and said the Tornado pilot was able to lead his simulated backup on a simulated ground attack. Now, handling one aircraft in a hostile environment is usually more than enough for a fighter pilot, so much of the deployment of the four UAVs is controlled autonomously by the drones themselves. The (simulated) UAVs have the ability to “self-organize, communicate, sense their environment, including possible enemies, and target their weapons,” according to the report. However, the aerial robots can’t actually pull the trigger themselves and it’s up to the fighter pilot to make that call. But don’t look for this kind of capability over the battlefield anytime soon. “There remains a great deal of work to be done before a system like this could be considered for operations, but the trials represent an important step in proving that complex autonomy technologies are ready to move from a simulated world to realistic flight conditions," QinetiQ spokesman Tony Wall told Technology News.