DefenseTech has a good summary of a recent 60 Minutes segment on the F-35, America's most expensive combat airplane yet. The Pentagon talks about how it uses "Star Wars-level technology." The pilots, however, aren't so enthusiastic.
RD-D2 vs HAL 9000
CBS News' national security correspondent David Martin says that the airplane's Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS—pronounced Alice) is like R2-D2 "because it really does control what the F-35 can do... She looks basically like a laptop computer and the pilot carries it out to the plane and sticks it in a slot right next to him in the cockpit and that contains all the information about the mission he's going to fly." It does sound like an armless, charmless astromech droid to me.
However, this artoo has its main brains elsewhere—about "the size of a shipping container." A brain that has a logic so rigid that it sounds like an evil HAL 9000, says DefenseTech. Here's what Col. Rod Cregier—the Air Force F-35 test program chief—has to say about her:
Even though the maintenance person knew what part he needed to put on it, ALIS was telling him, 'No, you needed this other part.' ALIS thinks she knows everything about the airplane. She won't let you do anything counter to herself.
That doesn't seem like a very good system to me.
Luke Skywalker's helmet
According to Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan "the helmet itself is Star Wars—it's what you see in a Star Wars movie." Of course, Bogdan has probably never seen Star Wars because the helmet has nothing to do with the movie but, that aside, it's pretty awesome stuff.
The helmet projects an augmented reality world inside its visor. This image is created by a visualization, targeting, and situational awareness marvel called Electro Optical Distributed Aperture System, which combines the feeds from six advanced infrared digital cameras located around the aircraft and other sensors—like radar—into a seamless 360-degree spherical panorama, all in real time.
The panorama inside the helmet effectively makes the F-35 completely invisible to the pilot. In fact, he will be invisible to himself: If he looks down to his legs, he won't see anything but the ground. He will be able to look to any direction and get a clear view of what is happening, day or night. And not only the image is crystal clear at all times, but it also gets overlaid with information from the targeting system.
The pilots hate this:
The new … helmets are a hoot. They made RAF pilots who used them dizzy, due to information overload. The night vision capability is awful, so pilots are flying virtually blind. We have swapped back to the helmet used by pilots who fly the Eurofighter.
Maybe they should use kids to fly these planes. Or scrap them all and just go full drone already, a la Ender's Game.
You can watch the 60 Minutes segment here: