back to article Droid pilots beat humans at air-to-air refuelling

The Pentagon killer-boffin agency DARPA (the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) has made another move forward in its plan to replace all US military humans with robots. The latest trick the droids have learned is that of flying a plane during air-to-air refuelling. Air-to-air refuelling, in which a military aircraft …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tanker Pilots Next?

    Now all they need is droid tankers and we'll never see em again...

  2. Shaun

    Seems familiar

    In three years Cyberdyne will become the largest supplier of military computer systems. All stealth bombers are upgraded with Cyberdyne computers, becoming fully unmanned, Afterward, they fly with a perfect operational record.................

    Anyone else getting a feeling of de ja vu?

  3. Rob


    ...the best fit for this software now, is to get it into all fighter planes regardless. The humans can take control as per normal, but when they need to refuel they just press 'D' on their keyboard and let the computer take over. Just like when we used to play Elite...

  4. Grant Mitchell

    Doesn't sound that hard!

    >Human pilots, rather than tracking the drogue, are taught to try and slot in with a

    >forward move at the right moment. Pilots have traditionally described the

    >manoeuvre as "like taking a running f-ck at a rolling doughnut".

    I used to bullseye womprats with my T16 back home, they aren't much bigger than a doughnut ;-)

  5. NRL

    RE: Doesn't sound that hard!

    Sure Grant... but you're using the force!

  6. Shaun


    Mmmmmmmm......... 2 metre doughnuts.................

  7. Larry

    I love the pic from the article

    It looks like the pilots are surrendering to some alien probe.

  8. Dillon Pyron

    Ever been there?

    It's bitch hard and scary. And I was in the back seat watching. The Navy puts the the drogue on the tanker and the probe on the fighter. The Air Force puts the probe on the tanker and socket on the fighter. Quite hairy to watch a 25 foot sword coming at you. The fighter pilot has to hold position while the probe driver puts it in position. Kind of like taking a running f*ck at at 6 foot doughnut from 25 feet away.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Elite rocked. I wish there was a new version of it.

  10. Trevor Hannah


    There is, it's called Eve-Online

  11. Rob

    At risk of turning this into some perverse advert...

    Try X3: The Reunion. Closest thing to Elite there is today and it's pretty good :)

  12. Morely Dotes

    An AARDman is good to find.

    I'll get me coat. It's the one with the extra-long sleeves and the leather straps...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ahhhh well,

    flying is for droids...

  14. alan narey

    @ Dillon

    Keep posting mate, very informative.

    Just wondering if there is anything you havent done?

  15. Dave

    @ Dillon (or any other US mil type)

    Why did the USAF elect to 'fly' the probe-on-a-boom into the receptacle on the receipient? The USN (and British!) hose-and-drogue seems more sensible to me...

  16. James O'Shea

    why did the USAF do the boom thing? Simple

    Two reasons:

    1 the other way is how everyone else does it. Aim High. (This is also known as the Not Invented Here Syndrome)

    2 Boeing had a nifty little system and needed someone to buy it. That system was, at first, intended for long-range _bombers_... which were built by... Boeing. (B-47s, B-52s...) And was fitted to heavy cargo aircraft... which were built by... Boeing. (KC-97 Stratotanker, a.k.a a C-97 with a boom and a lot of kerosine, a.k.a a B-29 with a new fuselage. See <>. Follow-up, a obscure, little-known, aircraft called the KC-135, which first flew as a military machine and which Boeing then attempted to make civilian versions of. The jury's still out on the legacy of that machine... See <>)

    It should be noted that many USAF _fighter_ aircraft, including the F-100 Super Sabre, had probe-drogue in flight refueling setups instead of the boom-port setup. (You can see a Hun with a probe here: <>) This is because Boeing did not conquer all overnight.

  17. Emo

    Next upgrade

    Is the next upgrade one where they can shoot each other?

    Automated Blue on Blue anyone?

  18. Stu

    AARDman? nah...

    It'll show up in the AARDwolf! Yeah, that's the ticket!


  19. Charles Manning

    Rat brains beats em all

    Put some cheese additive into the fuel and ...

  20. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Like taking a...

    How do they know?

    I mean really, I'm a broad-minded bloke and I was a student once, but I've never even *thought* of that, let alone tried it out.

    Still, if they can do it, I'm glad they're on our side.

  21. Josh

    @ Ahhhh well

    Dang you beat me to it.

    So does that mean whoever they go to war with are going clone their top soldier?

  22. Doug

    Boeing probe-and-boom

    Boeing's probe and boom system was developed to allow a higher rate of fuel transport through it than the flexible hose typically used by the probe and drogue systems.

  23. daniel

    The phrase I heard was....

    Trying to shove spaghetti up a wildcat's ass at night...

    After leaving you with that image in your minds, i'll get me coat...

  24. Alan Dougherty

    For those interested... Vulcan 607

    Anybody interested in the history of in-flight refuelling, from our side (British), has got to read 'Vulcan 607', by Rowland White. Ascension to Falklands and back with boom and probe, in storms, with the usual, British, cock up of mis-caculation makes it one of my top ten books of all time.

  25. Nigee

    not alone

    There was a photo a few weeks back of the RAF doing this same thing, taken from a/c flying alongside showing Tornado crew with hands in air but with probe and drogue. Also part of UAV development.

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  27. Daniel

    Buy both....

    EVE-online is a MMO, while x3:reunion is just single player only. Both are good in my mind, but eve has much better interaction. Although eve is a little more arcade in the flight control systems, and x3 is like a fully fledged space flight sim.

    But i would still tell everyone to buy both....

  28. Jeckle

    Do British people get cold shivers when they crack whopper?


    >There was a photo a few weeks back of the RAF doing this same thing, taken from a/c flying alongside showing Tornado crew with hands in air

    There is of course the possibility that the Tornado pilot was surrendering to the Air Conditioner flying along side him... I know I would.

    Oh, haha... theres the cold shivers... haha, who would have guessed? ... now where's me coat... .

    So now if they can just get the air conditioner to refuel in the air maybe someone will develop something to drive my car so I can read El Reg on my way to work.

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