Attention Fighter Pilots: Your Job is at Risk

Lockheed Martin may someday manufacture a full-scale fighter aircraft with remote-operation capabilities

LOCKHEED MARTIN X-35, Joint Strike Fighter. Nears completion of flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The JSF is being built in three variants: a conventional take-off and landing aircraft (CTOL) for the US Air Force; a carrier based variant (CV) for the US Navy; and a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft for the US Marine Corps and the Royal Navy. (U.S. Air Force photo)

I hereby admit to being excited about the movie Stealth about this time last year, and for making my friends come and see it with me. I was expecting to enjoy laughing at what I presumed would be entertaining ridiculousness; instead, the laughter that fateful night in the theater was only to help make the pain go away.

Today I'm laughing again about unmanned aerial vehicles, but this time it's that through-the-teeth kind, indicating nervous apprehension—or maybe even fear. Today Lockheed Martin announced its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter could someday be modified to fly pilotless, making it the world's first full-scale fighter aircraft with remote-operation capabilities.

This marks Lockheed's first major jump into the world of unmanned military aircraft--a field being heavily developed by weapons manufacturers which most have conceded will some day replace all conventionally-piloted military jets. In fact, many experts have projected that the F-35 could be the last major fighter to be designed with an onboard human pilot in mind. And while all of this has an obvious air of practicality, I can't help but feel more than a bit creeped out by the whole thing. I don't think I have to worry about our fighter jets achieving full Stealth-style sentience just yet, but still: a little more than 100 years ago, no one really believed we would ever even get off the ground. —John Mahoney