eli5 Why do fighter pilots need to be in the aircraft?

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Why can’t they be piloted like drones, and wouldn’t that make them more flexible in designs since they don’t need to worry about space for pilots/gforces?

In: Technology

That’s probably the direction it’ll eventually go, but at present drone and accurate remote piloting is still relatively new, and to accurately remote pilot for combat would be tricky.

As well, remote piloting requires a constant communication network to and from the vehicle. With ECM (Electronic Countermeasures) and electronic warfare being an increasing part of war connections can be blocked, cracked, or even hijacked leaving your planes useless and dead, your information compromised or spoofed, or your planes taken over and used against you or in ways you did not intend.

One problem is that communicating with the plane is too slow. For example, it takes over 1 second for an operator command to reach a Predator drone. Transmitting info or video back is also delayed. That drone has a max speed of 300mph so it’s not a big problem. For a fighter jet going mach speeds, those seconds are a huge problem.

Not a pilot or in the airforce, but I have heard a similar explanation from one.

If I remember correctly, the problem with remote controlling a drone aircraft is the response and connection timing. It’s not 1 to 1 response timing, it’d feel delayed, and it could cost a lot of money and resources(cause drones aren’t exactly cheap to make) which would be an issue if it crashed. Now thats not to say that human lives aren’t worth more than that: they are worth more than anything. But we’re talking about something that isn’t consistently reliable and most pilots are usually manning aircrafts that are consistently reliable, hence why pilots are in the aircraft and not remote controlling them.

HOWEVER, this was an explanation YEARS AGO. I’m not sure myself if we’re using more of the drones or not(I haven’t been outside much). If we’re still using the manned aircrafts over the drones, the explanation above would be one of the reasons(until someone much experienced would tell you). But another thing with using unmanned aircrafts is also considering the ethical policies behind it and getting it straight for the record of what we would be using it for. And that process takes a looooong time. I mean we essentially already have a car that drives itself. It’s already invented! But the reason we aren’t seeing more of it already is because we have to answer the questions that’d matter most. For example, this question:”in the event of a car crash, despite claiming how safe the unmanned vehicle is, who would take responsibility? The engineer? The car company?”

Download, sign up and play World of Warplanes on a server halfway around the world from you.

Do this until you throw your computer out the nearest window in frustration.

Why would you be throwing the computer out the window?

World of Warplanes is an online game where you control a plane on the server you’re playing on. You don’t control it on your computer. This means that if you input a control it can take you a second or two to see it happen if the server is too far away (what would be happening if you were a drone pilot in your country and controlling a drone on the other side of the planet). Now imagine trying to dogfight where split second control inputs matter. Yeah, you’re going to lose.

You need a low-latency and high reliability link between the plane and the pilot.

Looking out of the window / pulling a stick works, sending packets via a satellite does not.

Ask a CoD player about the input latency of running 165FPS vs >200FPS even if your monitor is only 144Hz, or why having 90ms lag to the server instead of 35ms is game-ruiningly bad and you will get reasonably close to the answer. The speed at which aircraft operate make any lag between control input and aircraft response bad, possibly fatally so. Sure, losing a drone isn’t as bad as losing a pilot, but losing a multi-million-dollar aircraft still sucks.

There’s also the fact that you can’t jam the hardwired communications between a cockpit and the control surfaces and weapons systems nearly as easily as you can cut off radio signals between an aircraft and a remote piloting station. Modern combat involves Electronic Warfare (EW) to interfere with C3 (Command/Control/Communications) to a far greater extent than it did back when binoculars, flags, and trumpets were the pinnacle of relevant technology.

Basically, drones are useless without at least a dog-brain level of autonomy that can operate within acceptable parameters when cut off from communications. A human pilot can operate with far better efficiency and effectiveness than a milspec Arduino running a few shell scripts.

Drones are typically only used against opposition that lacks the EW capabilities to counter them. A few rebels with a case of Stinger missiles is within their capabilities, but going against opposition that has the sophistication and resources to handle 21st-century technology makes drones risky at best. And we lack the AI technology to match what a human with a jammed radio can do, so the intolerance to massive G-forces is an acceptable compromise.

Than may change once we reach Skynet levels of AI technology, but if you read the Bolo series or watch the Terminator movies, you will get a bit of insight as to why we’re a bit leery of that. Small spoiler; one Bolo tank was sold to a planetary government that told to protect their people. Instead of engaging the enemy as intended, it burrowed underground. It turns out that there was a seismic anomaly that threatened to destroy the settlement that housed most humans on the planet, so it was actually fulfilling it’s programming. There’s also conflicts caused by human nature that would inhibit allowing AIs the degree of autonomy required for combat effectiveness.

TL:DR – It’s a combination of lacking the technology and lacking trust in that technology once we achieve it.