DARPA (the same folks behind the DARPA Challenge, where autonomous cars race to destinations) sponsored this project to add “damage tolerance” to aircraft. If the plane loses control surfaces from damage, the system takes control and calibrates itself to keep the aircraft airborne, and then uses on-board navigation systems to automatically land. You have to see the video of a scale test to really appreciate what’s going on.
I have the feeling that the cost of the system is probably far higher than the cost of losing a UAV in battle right now, but the implications are exciting. I expect that we could see systems like this in all sorts of forms of transportation. Just imagine if your tire blows out at interstate speed, and your car automatically merges you out of traffic and bring you to a safe stop.
I have to admit though, I don’t think anything would instill fear in an enemy much more than a one-winged fighter jet passing overhead after taking a direct hit from an anti-aircraft missile.
Video: Rockwell Collins