Optionally Manned Aircraft

There is a common assumption in some quarters that Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAS) are the future of Air Power. While RPAS are extremely useful in specific scenarios, they are far from a panacea and bring many limitations in comparison to manned aeroplanes. These include the need to deploy additional infrastructure such as Ground Control Stations (GCS) and Transmitter towers, the requirement to obtain (possibly very expensive) satellite coverage, and the inability to transit through certain types of airspace. Likewise, a frequency survey is sometimes required to ensure the RPAS/UAS systems do not interfere with local signals and vice versa, and that there are no ‘dead zones’ of coverage.

One category of aircraft which I’m genuinely surprised has not gained greater traction in recent years therefore is that of the ‘Optionally Manned’ aircraft.

This has the advantage is that it can be quickly deployed via manual flying through any airspace, and commence flying operationally without the need to wait for ground infrastructure to arrive and/or satellite coverage to be coordinated. Similarly, there is no need for frequency surveys or worries about dead zones. Once established, the platform can be reconfigured as unmanned platforms to exploit the advantages inherent in RPAS such as endurance.

The Northrop Grumman Firebird is one such asset which has been quietly developed for a number of as yet undisclosed customers, including US agencies. Evolving from a privately developed prototype, this was used for a number of trials with various payloads.


It’s now been developed into a larger type and, as the link shows, the Firebird can be flown manned by either one or 2 aircrew when required.

It can then be converted into an RPAS in a matter of hours by exchanging the cockpit with a satellite terminal.

A fascinating and very flexible platform; it’ll be interesting to see who ends up operating them.

Regards,
MM
 

diverman

LE
Book Reviewer
There is a common assumption in some quarters that Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAS) are the future of Air Power. While RPAS are extremely useful in specific scenarios, they are far from a panacea and bring many limitations in comparison to manned aeroplanes. These include the need to deploy additional infrastructure such as Ground Control Stations (GCS) and Transmitter towers, the requirement to obtain (possibly very expensive) satellite coverage, and the inability to transit through certain types of airspace. Likewise, a frequency survey is sometimes required to ensure the RPAS/UAS systems do not interfere with local signals and vice versa, and that there are no ‘dead zones’ of coverage.

One category of aircraft which I’m genuinely surprised has not gained greater traction in recent years therefore is that of the ‘Optionally Manned’ aircraft.

This has the advantage is that it can be quickly deployed via manual flying through any airspace, and commence flying operationally without the need to wait for ground infrastructure to arrive and/or satellite coverage to be coordinated. Similarly, there is no need for frequency surveys or worries about dead zones. Once established, the platform can be reconfigured as unmanned platforms to exploit the advantages inherent in RPAS such as endurance.

The Northrop Grumman Firebird is one such asset which has been quietly developed for a number of as yet undisclosed customers, including US agencies. Evolving from a privately developed prototype, this was used for a number of trials with various payloads.


It’s now been developed into a larger type and, as the link shows, the Firebird can be flown manned by either one or 2 aircrew when required.

It can then be converted into an RPAS in a matter of hours by exchanging the cockpit with a satellite terminal.

A fascinating and very flexible platform; it’ll be interesting to see who ends up operating them.

Regards,
MM
This is heading towards what Dale Brown wrote in some of his novels some 10 to 15 years ago, with the use of RPVs/UAVs, use of swarm technology and aircraft with the capability of swoping between manned and unmanned opertion using the same airframe. Also the use of one maneed airframe controling several locally controlled RPVs of the same type.
 
....seems bloody obvious when you think about it. Thank you for posting this.

The interesting bit is the human pilot does the donkey work of bus driving the craft to where it is needed and the tactical technical bit is done remotely.
 

mcphee1948

Old-Salt
Perhaps the job of delivering a nuclear warhead to a target is automatic. That way, we can destroy ourselves by robots. Are we that daft?
 
Perhaps the job of delivering a nuclear warhead to a target is automatic. That way, we can destroy ourselves by robots. Are we that daft?
A UGM-133 is fairly automatic once someone's let it loose.

The concept of some sort of automatic 'launch on warning' or similar system has been out there (and alarming thriller writers) for decades - the notion in such tales being that you have some sort of complex (because the systems always seem to be Soviet/Russian...) whereby you get warning of inbound enemy ICBMs, leading to the computer detecting the inbound weapons issuing launch instructions to your silo-based weapons, which are then launched without any human intervention at all.

And nobody says, some hours later 'pity that the warning was the sunlight reflecting off the clouds in an odd way, wasn't it?' unless they're either Swiss or a cockroach.

There's a reason that even the rather paranoid elements of the Politburo felt that having some human beings in the loop was probably a good idea where nuclear weapons were concerned....
 
This is the Diamond DA62 with surveillance packages. Thales UK has just taken delivery of a couple of aircraft.
DA62 Special Mission Aircraft fleet delivered to Thales UK


The UK had a couple of similar ones based on an older version of this aircraft about a decade ago. At that time there was an optionally manned package being offered by someone (not Thales) working with Diamond, but the UK didn't buy that option. It's not entirely clear what the relationship between the "optionally manned" company and Diamond was.

So this isn't really that new. There have been lots of customers kicking the tires of the optionally manned versions, but I'm not aware of anyone actually buying them yet other than perhaps for evaluation.

Diamond's planes are apparently an attractive plane for this type of work due to size, cost, range, fuel economy, and other characteristics. Quite a few countries operate the regular fully manned version for surveillance purposes.
 

maguire

LE
Book Reviewer
There is a common assumption in some quarters that Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAS) are the future of Air Power. While RPAS are extremely useful in specific scenarios, they are far from a panacea and bring many limitations in comparison to manned aeroplanes. These include the need to deploy additional infrastructure such as Ground Control Stations (GCS) and Transmitter towers, the requirement to obtain (possibly very expensive) satellite coverage, and the inability to transit through certain types of airspace. Likewise, a frequency survey is sometimes required to ensure the RPAS/UAS systems do not interfere with local signals and vice versa, and that there are no ‘dead zones’ of coverage.

One category of aircraft which I’m genuinely surprised has not gained greater traction in recent years therefore is that of the ‘Optionally Manned’ aircraft.

This has the advantage is that it can be quickly deployed via manual flying through any airspace, and commence flying operationally without the need to wait for ground infrastructure to arrive and/or satellite coverage to be coordinated. Similarly, there is no need for frequency surveys or worries about dead zones. Once established, the platform can be reconfigured as unmanned platforms to exploit the advantages inherent in RPAS such as endurance.

The Northrop Grumman Firebird is one such asset which has been quietly developed for a number of as yet undisclosed customers, including US agencies. Evolving from a privately developed prototype, this was used for a number of trials with various payloads.


It’s now been developed into a larger type and, as the link shows, the Firebird can be flown manned by either one or 2 aircrew when required.

It can then be converted into an RPAS in a matter of hours by exchanging the cockpit with a satellite terminal.

A fascinating and very flexible platform; it’ll be interesting to see who ends up operating them.

Regards,
MM
That looks very Scaled Composites...has Rutan had a hand in penning it?
 

maguire

LE
Book Reviewer
The USMC has also employed the optionally manned Kaman K-Max in Afghanistan and is continuing to develop the concept.



He did yes...how can you tell?! ;)

Regards,
MM
You can spot one of his a mile off.
 

diverman

LE
Book Reviewer
A UGM-133 is fairly automatic once someone's let it loose.

The concept of some sort of automatic 'launch on warning' or similar system has been out there (and alarming thriller writers) for decades - the notion in such tales being that you have some sort of complex (because the systems always seem to be Soviet/Russian...) whereby you get warning of inbound enemy ICBMs, leading to the computer detecting the inbound weapons issuing launch instructions to your silo-based weapons, which are then launched without any human intervention at all.

And nobody says, some hours later 'pity that the warning was the sunlight reflecting off the clouds in an odd way, wasn't it?' unless they're either Swiss or a cockroach.

There's a reason that even the rather paranoid elements of the Politburo felt that having some human beings in the loop was probably a good idea where nuclear weapons were concerned....
Ever seen the film Wargames.?
 

ericferret

War Hero
I'm looking forward to the optionally maintained aircraft.

I've been bending spanners and getting covered in shite for far too long.
 
I'm looking forward to the optionally maintained aircraft...
BAeS and Babcocks are specialists in ‘optionally maintained’ aircraft contracts!

Regards,
MM
 
Where do “loyal wingmen” fit into this spectrum?
 
Where do “loyal wingmen” fit into this spectrum?
They're basically UAVs where the controller happens to riding in another plane nearby rather than sat on the ground. They would need to be more autonomous than a remotely piloted aircraft. For the purposes of regulation I would expect them to fall into the same category as fully or partially autonomous vehicles.

Personally though, I'm a bit sceptical about the concept actually being useful.
 
There is a common assumption in some quarters that Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAS) are the future of Air Power. While RPAS are extremely useful in specific scenarios, they are far from a panacea and bring many limitations in comparison to manned aeroplanes. These include the need to deploy additional infrastructure such as Ground Control Stations (GCS) and Transmitter towers, the requirement to obtain (possibly very expensive) satellite coverage, and the inability to transit through certain types of airspace. Likewise, a frequency survey is sometimes required to ensure the RPAS/UAS systems do not interfere with local signals and vice versa, and that there are no ‘dead zones’ of coverage.

One category of aircraft which I’m genuinely surprised has not gained greater traction in recent years therefore is that of the ‘Optionally Manned’ aircraft.

This has the advantage is that it can be quickly deployed via manual flying through any airspace, and commence flying operationally without the need to wait for ground infrastructure to arrive and/or satellite coverage to be coordinated. Similarly, there is no need for frequency surveys or worries about dead zones. Once established, the platform can be reconfigured as unmanned platforms to exploit the advantages inherent in RPAS such as endurance.

The Northrop Grumman Firebird is one such asset which has been quietly developed for a number of as yet undisclosed customers, including US agencies. Evolving from a privately developed prototype, this was used for a number of trials with various payloads.


It’s now been developed into a larger type and, as the link shows, the Firebird can be flown manned by either one or 2 aircrew when required.

It can then be converted into an RPAS in a matter of hours by exchanging the cockpit with a satellite terminal.

A fascinating and very flexible platform; it’ll be interesting to see who ends up operating them.

Regards,
MM
I think India already has this to an extent in some of it's MIGs, whereby the on board AI removes the pilot and navigator from the craft without warning should the AI find their stinking chat tiresome.
 

Latest Threads

Top