This is one of the coolest things I've heard about in a while and I've been meaning to post about it for weeks now. You see, one of the trickiest thing that many fighter pilots have to learn (aside from carrier landings if you're in the Navy, that is) is how to re-fuel in the air.

Modern aircraft have incredibly capable autopilots that use a mix of GPS and inertial sensors to get a very accurate idea of where the plane is and where it is going. But re-fueling has always been a manual job--until now.

f/a-18 in-flight refueling demonstration

A DARPA project to figure out if computer could do the job has proven successful.

Sierra Nevada Corporation in Sparks, Nevada did most of the software work to tie in the optical sensors that fed into the navigation system (the "Autonomous Airborne Refueling Demonstration (AARD) system") once the jet was close enough to the fuel line. There's also an excellent write-up by the pilot in the front seat of that photo (the one with his hands up) in the current issue of Air & Space Magazine

Autonomous in-flight refueling. Who'd have thought?

Posted by jzawodn at September 11, 2007 03:39 PM

Reader Comments
# alek said:

Killer shot ... and great story ... thanks for posting.

and just an FYI that the "photo" link goes to your blog.

on September 11, 2007 04:42 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Photo link fixed. Thanks.

on September 11, 2007 04:45 PM
# Josh Bancroft said:

Cool! Midair refueling was always the hardest thing to do in Top Gun for the NES when I was younger. Wish I could retrofit my memories with AARD! :-)

on September 11, 2007 04:45 PM
# Garry Conn said:

Very cool man... it never fails to amaze me with the technological times we live in. I dig every minute of it! :)

on September 11, 2007 08:05 PM
# Wesley said:

I thought it was interesting that the pilot talked about starting the control system by saying that the engineer "commanded the AARD computers to take over control of the aircraft".

I wouldn't be surprised if computers are assigned a rank.

on September 25, 2007 01:38 AM
# Sugar said:

nice shot!! I work for sierra nevada corp, and we do some pretty neat stuff here.

on September 23, 2008 07:44 PM
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