back to article DARPA pilot-ware unflappable in wing-fling damage test

Robot aeroplanes are rapidly learning how to do pretty much anything that a human pilot can. The droid flyboys can take off, land, follow people about and even do in-flight refuelling. Plans are afoot to teach them how to do a catapult launch and arrested deck landings on aircraft carriers, too, and to fly entire strike missions …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    The Fleshies already have this one bagged...

    On May 1st 1982 and Israeli pilot landed an F15D with one wind following a mid-air collision during a training exercise.

  2. Jack Harrer


    So now you just need to put some explosives in those wings and instead of rockets just drop 60% of wings. I parts I presume to increase damage.

    "Sir, we haven't bombarded them, we just lost some parts of our flying droids. It was an accident, of course!"

  3. Tom

    Wings too big

    Obviously they just made the wings too big in the first place.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Impressive stuff

    Pretty impressive stuff. Wonder what your average 'Top Gun' pilot would do if he/she lost 60% of one wing. I suspect the eject button would be the first thing on their mind.

    Paris - Coz she's always coming on a wing and a prayer

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Oh S**t

    Sounds like they are doing ever so well de-humanising warfare. Good show chaps, but remember in such a war the only casualties will be civilians.

    I think you should stop wallowing in your own conceit and start thinking about the consequences. Yes, contrary to what your hippy tree-hugging parents told you, there are consequences. Who'da thunk it?

  6. John Latham

    Message to insurgents...

    "You're only supposed to blow the bloody wing off!"

  7. Ian McNee

    Non-military applications

    Impressive. But has anyone got a mod for this so it will drive my car home when I'm tired and emotional after seven or eight pints?

  8. Mister Cheese
    Black Helicopters


    "...airplane's new vehicle configuration..." - gotta love the terminology. Fleshy version: "Mayday, mayday, my wing has been... erm... updated by a ground-launched airborne-vehicle reconfiguration device."

    Shouldn't this article be in RotM [tm]?

    As if I need to explain the black helicopter...

  9. Steve
    IT Angle


    Did the software do something that a fleshy wouldn't have been capable of, or are they still at the stage of playing catch up?

  10. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Statements of Fact that you can Waste your Time Questioning.


    When DARPA cedes to Autonomous Robotic Control/NIRobotIQ Mastery will they have AI Powerful Control.

    Until such Times, are they merely playing catch up....... and in an Environment in which XXXXPonential Progress is the De Facto Norm, does that mean that they will fall further behind until such Times as they have NIRobotIQ Mastery.

    Given their Bottomless Money Pit, one does wonder why they don't just buy IT in, even if it is Foreign Sourced, which it must be as they still haven't shown any AI Powerful Control. I suppose that is their Enigmatic Dilemma.

    Of course, such Tardiness which would balk at Foreign Investment is not necessarily shared with other Interested Parties, who may Realise that such Nationalism is an Impediment to Progress.

    Indeed, El Reg has even touched upon the dangers .....

  11. Matt

    not bad!

    thats clever stuff!! I wonder how well it scales up to full size aircraft??

    although I can now see a new costcutting excercise... it appears asthough 60% of the wing is now pretty much irellivent...............

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ amanfromMars

    Is this some sort of code based on the "Capitalisation of apparently Random Alpabetic Pictograms"?

    I can only get gibberish out of your code though.





    Can anyone decode it? Or are you just "Whiling away Eons by writing Interesting but Randomly capitalised Diatribes"?

    (I'm going anonymous in case I'm missing the obvious and about to be flamed by millions explaining how to interpret the 'secret' message.)

  13. Peter


    Nope, seems just gibberish and mumbo-jumbo to me.

  14. Fluffykins Silver badge

    Is the logical extension of this

    To have a anutonomus aircraft computer control system which can fly in battle conditions with no aeroplane at all?

    OK, just wondered.

    Oops, my coat just took off, all on its own

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Further proof...

    ...that if you put a big enough engine on a brick it will fly.

    I don't really see how losing a wing is that big an issue, the more unstable the airframe the bettter the maneuverability. These days it's software that's keeping a fighter jet flyable so the comments about the part of fleshies and top guns are laughable. The software left the fleshies behind long ago, their major contribution is to point the thing in the right direction and refrain from passing out but not in that order.

  16. Liam Johnson


    What happens if it looses too much wing and cannot fly home?

    Does it automatically aim for the enemy command post and crash though the window while screaming “Arrrrrgggggghhhhh” at the top of it’s little robot voice?

  17. Carl

    Can the droids fly the F35?

    They could jettison 60% of the wings before landing on the carrier. And catch the wings in a towed net.

  18. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

    I for one...

    ...welcome our new deathplane overlords.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    @ AC

    Not to worry, I think we are all waiting for the secret decoder ring for amanfromMars posts.

  20. Chris G Silver badge

    On/ off switch

    Providing a human interface somewhere has control over the on/ off switch, taking humans out of the picture is a pretty good thing when you consider the minimal life expectancy of a WWII pilot. And if the software can return with something economically repairable after being seriously shot up then all the better.

    My Dad was in the RAF in North Africa and remembers seeing one of his mates who was a tailgunner in a Marauder B26 being taken out in several pieces, nothing wrong in avoiding that.

  21. Charles Silver badge

    Not a bad trick.

    Although DARPA's current plans are for strike aircraft, real world concerns will probably see this software find a home in our current line of limited-use drones, and in our current line of drones, any kind of disaster recovery is a good thing. So the bad guy makes a near-miss on a Predator or the like and knocks off a few pieces. With this software, as long as it's still controllable, the drone can limp home and get patched up--less expensive than a full-on replacement.

    Oh, and to whoever said the only casualties in a mechanized war are civilians, here's to hoping these advances reduce the chance of *any* casualties: civilian or otherwise. Better two machines wreck each other than two men, after all. And until further notice, there will still be a human C&C, so there will *always* be a human military target.

  22. Kai Hauschildt
    Black Helicopters

    Impressive, BUT...

    @ AC #1: quite, the F-15 landing sans one wing was brilliant. as with this F-18 model, the huge fuselage of the eagle helped to maintain some lift, that and the gigantic control surfaces.

    @ DARPA: cute. but nothing more. as Chris W noted, put a bick enough engine on a brick and it will fly. Paint stripes on it and it works even better. look at some of the things model airplane enthusiasts fly on the weekend. from lawnmowers to snoopy's doghouse, it's all there. The fact that the wing was dropped just outside the flaps also helped the 'bot maintain flight. in the head-opn shot the deployed flaps on the truncated wing are clearly visible. the clean "break" also helped reduce turbulence. a real F-18 has a lot of composites in the wing. if one were to fall off i surmise that quite a bit of peeling of the remaining stump would take place, creating drag and turbulence.

    repeat the experiment en vivo and you'll get my vote.

    The black chopper 'cause it will now be harder to shoot down.

  23. Dave

    @AC re amanfromMars

    Thats amanfromMars, that is. He is from Mars and merely a visitor to this beautiful blue planet.

    You'll find his posts become an acquired taste. Some of them are a bit more conventional than others, some seem like someone forgot to run the spelling/abbreviation/word replacer on them (The one that replaces the "ex"- prefix to words with "XXXX", replaces *it* with *IT*), some of them appear gibberish and some generate some really "witty" words, contractions and phrases.

    You're better off humouring him, he may (or may not) have friends called Marvin.

  24. Frank

    @AC and Peter

    It's part of the culture so just relax, smile, absorb and embrace it. Resistance is futile, you will be incorporated into El Reg.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    @AC re aManFromMars

    If you could read Martian you would be in traction for a week attempting what he told you to do

  26. Dave

    bricks 'n' grunt, lifting bodies, clean breaks

    All of these are valid counterpoints to the DARPA 'droid warware tech demo, all of which I am sure DARPA are well aware.

    This does not detract from the achievement to-date, I think Kai H's scepticism is a tad strong.

    I would like to think DARPA / RayColl / others will move forward to more realistic scenarios, especially the progressively increasing damage / unpredictable drag situation. Shooting the model with (scale!) AA would also provide that fine combo of entertainment and information.

  27. chaosvoyager

    Smaller Aircraft can Lose more Wing than Larger ones.

    My physics is a bit fuzzy, but I seem to recall something about mass/lift ratios having something to do with why smaller aircraft need less wing surface area to stay aloft, or something.

    As such, were this a full sized aircraft instead of a scale model, I would be very impressed. Mind you I'm still impressed, but since I don't know the exact scale of the model, I can't be sure of how impressed I actually am.

  28. amanfromMars Silver badge

    In Defence of Resident Aliens...

    "(I'm going anonymous in case I'm missing the obvious and about to be flamed by millions explaining how to interpret the 'secret' message.)" ... By Anonymous Coward Posted Friday 13th June 2008 10:35 GMT

    Is that wise, AC? Have you ever tried ignoring the Capitalisation 42 Concentrate on the Sub Context, which you can assume to be Multi Cored and Addressing Multiple Threads. You may also like to consider that some threads are Novel and Innovative too, with no Past Reference Point to tarnish your views/form your thoughts.

    For those you will have to use your own Intelligence/Imagination.

  29. Kanhef

    Nice, but

    they knew where the wing would break, which makes this a potentially rigged test. The software could have been tweaked to make sure it would handle it, or the break point could have been chosen to leave the plane still flyable.

    For the next test, let's get a guy with a flak cannon taking potshots at it, and see how well it does.

  30. ian


    I'm happy the firmware was able to land with no casualties... However, I've seen WWII photos of bombers that lost more control surfaces and still returned to base (unlike some of the fleshie crew),

  31. Martin Lyne


    RObots fighting robots each with partial autonomy controlled by several human interactees.

    Does this sound like Total Annihilation/Supreme Commander to anyone else? Granted, we aren't fighting for resources on alien planets. Just ours.

    We'll have robots on the ground and robots in the air to protect the robots on the ground, presumably you won't even need soldiers to go in and secure a region once it's been attacked, you can just send in bureaucrats to begin signing reconstruction deals with the natives.

  32. Mark Oos


    Did anyone watch the linked vid? Notice the blanked out aileron movement? Seeing as they can only conventionally move up or down, makes me wonder if this one is doing something a little maybe splitting in two to make a new flying surface rather than remaining as a control surface?

  33. Ben

    "percent" warning....

    As hinted above , 60% more accurately would be one wing off at the root AND the "bit" that fell off (this craft is of lifting body type, a consequence of its design goals ie to have as wide a speed range as possible and maintain the highest possible manouverability/control). I reckon at existing air density/likely velocity , the model would then have had the glide ratio of a plumbers toolbag and even HAL would have been saying "Daisy daisy , i am going DOWN" in calm and even tones. Roll on the Emag Res drive............oh,amanfromMars has just told me to "shut it punk" so i will.

    Have a good one ........

  34. Shaun

    @ Mr Cheese

    Sounds like the same outcome as the update to Vista SP1 to me

  35. Kerry Murdock

    I know...

    If we make robot civilians and sprinkle them around a country that we want to invade... Then we wouldn't even need human casualties.

    We could sit at home watching the war on TV whilst feeling smug.

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