The US military's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft is proving to be a pain in the neck in more ways than one. Not only did the Pentagon spend almost $400 billion to buy 2,400 aircraft - about twice as much as it cost to put a man on the moon - the F-35 program is 7 years behind schedule and $163 billion over budget. This at a time when cuts in the defense budget are forcing the Pentagon to shrink the size of the military. CBS 60 Minutes took a closer look at the troubled fighter plane a few months back, but their rebroadcast on Sunday evening seems like as good a reason as any to revisit one of the biggest ongoing budget debacles in U.S. military memory. David Martin gets an inside look at what makes the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter the most expensive weapons system in history.
> If manned aircraft are so obsolete, why are airlines and shipping companies wasting so much money on pilots?
Inertia. For example, the average age of the UPS fleet is 15.5 years. [airfleets.net]
I don't have specific links handy, but as a regular reader of the risks digest [ncl.ac.uk] where they analyze nearly every fly-by-wire aircrash to death, the odds are against the pilots and in favor of the automation. One of the biggest reasons is that people are prone to error and they tend to do even worse in high stress situations.
I am not sure that I believe that inertia is the only thing holding this back. It seems that we are reading about advances with automated automobiles frequently these days, but they are still prototypes with limited capabilities. I don't see the same advances for UAV's (I don't read much about this, so I could be missing something). The only production models I have seen are small light weight models with a small payload; a camera, and perhaps a limited supply of weapons for military models. I haven't seen anything on the scale of an F-16, or a 727 that would lead me to believe that conventional aircraft with pilots are anywhere close to being obsolete.
Are UAV's safe? Definitely. Are they the future of commercial and military aviation? Probably. Are they going to replace the need for conventional aircraft in the next 10-20 years? I say no.
> Are they going to replace the need for conventional aircraft in the next 10-20 years? I say no.
That's mostly because all of the planes in service today will still be in service 20 years down the line.
Sure, it is a combination of factors. But inertia is the biggest one. There are a lot less airplanes in service than there are cars and they last a lot longer too which translates into slower change.
> I don't see the same advances for UAV's (I don't read much about this, so I could be missing something). The only production models I have seen are small light weight models
You'll note that there is also no such thing as a production autonomous car, even google's soon to be on the road bubblecars are still just testers. But the stuff that is production - auto-follow cruise control, automatic braking, stay-in-lane, etc all have equivalents on airplanes that have been in use for decades.
As for test vehicles, here's one: http://www.baesystems.com/magazine/BAES_051920/look-no-hands [baesystems.com]