back to article Robo stealth bomber piggybacks on NASA's shuttle jumbo

US arms'n'aerospace megacorp Boeing has now moved its Phantom Ray robot stealth fighter to Edwards Air Force Base in California for flight testing. The unmanned jet was shipped there on the back of one of NASA's well-known piggyback jumbo jets, more usually employed moving space shuttles about. The Phantom Ray UAS piggybacked …


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  1. Busby
    Dead Vulture

    Good article

    But.... Why does El Reg persist in spreading articles across multiple pages? Is it purely for the extra ad impressions or is there a technical reason? Not complaining just curious as for some reason it always bother me. Otherwise nice article keep up the aerospace coverage please.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up


      Or Safari's "Reader" button (uses the same tech). Press it, and all of the ads disappear, all the pages are loaded in the background (so the site still gets their ad hits) then presented as a single easy to read page.

      There is a Firefox add-on, or a bookmarklet too for non-Safari or Firefox users.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Prove the technology first..

    "driving helicopters and transport planes (maybe not too much even of that, as there are moves to automate supply choppers too)."

    Yes I'm if I was a pilot I would also rather they prove the technology in supply chain first before they start putting it to offensive use... I don't think too many people are comfortable with having offensive aircraft that can operate with little or no oversight from humans...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      @AC 14th December 2010 12:46 GMT

      "I don't think too many people are comfortable with having offensive aircraft that can operate with little or no oversight from humans..."

      Then those people are ignorant idiots. ICBM's, once fired, are unabortable. That was the whole "deterrence" aspect over the last 50+ years. The same was true of torpedoes, before wire guidance. And artillery for hundreds of years. The only difference with a autonomous vehicle and an artillery shell is that the AV has a computer onboard so it can get to target in a fashion more sophisticated than ballistically..

      1. bolccg


        I think people might be smarter than you think, or at least perhaps smarter than you appear to be.

        Assuming that people really were happy with the weapons that you list (*cough* ICBMs? Few complaints about those, were there not? *cough*) those were specifically targeted at something. This sort of development moves more towards having, say, a loitering vehicle that selects its own targets. Launching an artillery shell at a specific time towards a specific area of a country is not the same thing as sending a robot up above that country and letting it pick its own targets. Just as, for that matter, firing a shell at a specific target is not the moral equivalent of blasting away randomly all over.

        Your argument seems to be that releasing any weapon in any context is morally equivalent and likely to end just as "happily" (for want of a better word). If so, you're a moron.

      2. MrCheese

        "Then those people are ignorant idiots"

        Just like your fine self then because as any fule kno, an ICBM doesn't have the ability the automously avoid hazards, change flight path or firing solution on-the-fly as these UAVs eventually will.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So the aim is "requiring no operator input to fly somewhere, deliver a weapon to a specified location, and fly back again" - why bother to fly back again? And don't cruise missiles already do this (at a fraction of the cost)? I seem to remember video of cruise missiles flying along the streets of Baghdad and turning left at the traffic lights.

    Sounds to me like arms companies trying to come up with an insanely unnecessary hi-tech excuse to get their dirty little hands on another $100 billion or so, rather than allowing the government to waste the money providing clean water, sanitation, schools etc for the 'enemy' (all of which could have a large sign saying "A present from the evil Americans") [although the Merkin voters wouldn't let them do that I suppose - much better to kill foreigners than help them live full and productive lives]

  4. Zolko Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    been there, done that

    If I remember well, the UK aerospace industry said that future fighters will be pilot-less AI flown, so stopped developing new fighter jets after the Jaguar.

    Then they realized that a fighter does not only deliver weapons, but serves also as defensive weapon flying across the homeland. But even when over hostile zones, a fighter is also a psychological tool where an RC-jet (or AI-jet) has no effect. A fighter screaming with full after-burner above some foreign group has an effect that no AI-plane can produce.

    If the aerospace industry really wants to develop fighters for the XXI-th century, they'd better look for something that doesn't burn zillions of fuel-per-minute.

    In short, this is useless stuff.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The UK

      The Jaguar wasn't even the first time the UK made that mistake. As long ago as 1957, the Sandys Report said that British defence could be guaranteed by a mix of ICBMs and anti-aircraft missiles. The result was that a whole generation of world-beating technology was consigned to the scrapheap.

  5. Andrew Newstead

    Aircrew limits

    Good analysis Lewis but I do have something to add that you seemed to neglect. One of the drives to develop unmanned aircraft technology is the perception that the current generation of combat aircaft are actually pushing beyond the physical limits of the aircrew. It has long been recognised that aircraft such as the F16 are capable of pulling g-forces that are beyond the ability of the pilot to withstand and so the major limitation to combat manouvering is the pilot.

    And these are the previous generation of combat aircraft, the current generation are even worse.

    We also see this carrier aircraft launches where we see F18s being launched on automatic with the pilot keeping their hands off the controls until they have recovered from the forces involved in the launch.

    There are definate advantages from the use of UAVs beyond those you have noted and it would be remiss of the aircraft companies not to explore this technology otherwise when then next round of combat aircraft procurement comes along (which it will do) they will be without the capability to respond.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Must be made out of solid lead to need that jumbo!

    "Barring the appearance of working rayguns or something, there isn't really a lot more one could do to a combat jet to make it better now, except maybe removing the pilot."

    If you could go to the shop and buy more kit while flying it, just like in Star Fighter 3000, then that would make it better. Of course, being able to go into space would be an enhancement, too.

    There you go: plenty of ideas, there, Lewis!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      re: made of Lead

      its the size not the mass. its too wide to go by road or rail, and choppers don't usually fly that far non-stop... oh and the jumbo is already in the shed next door, not being used.... simple choice even if its a little overkill.

  7. JS9
    Black Helicopters

    ANOTHER PROBLEM WITH HIGH TECH ROBO-BOMBERS... that they deliver their technology to an enemy and its far-flung allies as soon as one is shot down or crashes on a mission.

    Or is there nothing secret about Stealth tech anymore?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters

      Stealth 'technology'

      is some material science stuff - probably difficult to replicate without knowledge of the fabrication process - and beyond that, it's mostly software - stored on encrypted memory. Engines are engines, flight control surfaces are flight control surfaces... any trickery will be in code.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Encrypted memory

        I think that you'll find that the memory is the special "one pulse and it's all erased permanently" type.

        The only problem with that is the code that decides whether you have crashed in enemy teritory, or just taken a heavy landing on a carrier!

        1. Matt Piechota


          "The only problem with that is the code that decides whether you have crashed in enemy teritory, or just taken a heavy landing on a carrier!"

          Have it erase after it touches down every time, just to be safe. It's not like you couldn't just re-flash it down in the hanger before the next sortie. But, you could always have a GPS or proximity sensor flag. If ("on the deck within a mile of X" == FALSE) erase_memory; self-destruct;

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    As a previous poster noted, modern aircraft can easily exceed the physical limitations of their human pilots, and the pilots themselves become a design limitation. Imagine, with that constraint removed from the design equation, you'd soon see aircraft capable of making 15G or greater maneuvers..

    I'm pretty sure if I was a pilot of F-16/F-35 or whatever, that a group of these buzzing over my flightline pulling extremely high G manuevers would be damned effective.

  9. E 2

    Autonomous weapons

    I really do not like the idea of autonomous weapon systems. They will cause a rather radical concentration of power in the hands of a president or prime minister... removing the military chain of command from between weapons and politicians entirely.

    Given very accurate weapons that require no pilots or drivers... what stops another GWB type loon bombing every- and anyone God tells him to? How would the legislative find out about that... there would be no military people involved to talk about it?

  10. Stevie


    I fear Mr Page has mis-identified what is going on here, which is nothing to do with NASA but a very lucky shot of the Drone's counter-measures being deployed: an inflatable Jumbo Jet behind which the drone can hide while it masquerades as a lost Korean Airways flight.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Prove the technology first

    "offensive aircraft that can operate with little or no oversight from humans..."

    The whole of the Pentagon / US arms procurement operates with no oversight (at least no meaningful oversight) from humans

  12. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Up

    Or – perhaps even better –

    No more pilots hopped up on Amphetamines as the US military has been wont to do to keep their pilots alert at the cost of impairing their judgement and causing friendly fire incidents because you can swap the "pilot" during a long mission.

  13. Daniel 1


    Now that Lewis has been challenged on his opinions on the battle-worthiness of Harrier jump jets, he switches his aim to (apparently) state that all jet pilots (not just the Tornado pilots) are talentless cowards who could be replaced by machines. Take a look folks... this is how the public champion will betray-and-betray, his former champions, as he fights the corner he has painted for himself.

    I say, if you want to understand another man's world, try flying ten miles in his flak. Then call him a coward.

    Let's see how he paints it next... Were the losses in Tornado crews during Gulf Wars 1 and 2 down to A) shoddy aircraft, B) cowardly crews, C) not using forty year old subsonic jets that would have (apparently) been much better for the job or D) "the missions didn't need flying in the first place"? Only Lewis, the jury, can decide...

    Let's face it, hindsight has a far better hit-rate than any artillery radar or ground-based intelligence.

    Good luck, Lewis, you're a credit to the service.

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