Will there be a time when pilots are no longer needed? The notion may sound farfetched, but think about it for a moment.
Remotely controlled aircraft have been with us for many years, and as one might expect, the military has led the way. The Air Force’s MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper have proven their worth as lethal weapons platforms in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Likewise, the Navy now deploys its own autonomous vehicles—the MQ-8 Fire Scout helicopter and the MQ-4C Triton fixed-wing drone. Most recently, there’s news that the Army has shown interest in using a dual-rotor drone, the DP-14, for casualty evacuation. There’ve been some failures (note the MQ-4C crash in September 2018), but overall, these pilot-free machines continue to show amazing capabilities.
On the civilian side, I predict that we’ll see pilotless cargo jets flying within a decade—first on oceanic routes, and then domestically as well. As for fully autonomous passenger planes…maybe that’s a stretch. I can’t help thinking, however, that more than a few airline executives have mulled over the cost savings of eliminating pilots.