Summit Notebook

Exclusive outtakes from industry leaders

Rockwell Collins CEO: ex-fighter pilot sees need for pilotless aircraft

December 15, 2009

On the surface, it would appear that a fighter pilot would have little interest in a remotely piloted aircraft, which more and more are being used in wars for reconnaissance and firing missiles.

It isn’t too big a leap to wonder whether in the future perhaps drones will take away jobs from fighter pilots.

AERO-ARMS-SUMMIT/But Rockwell Collins Chief Executive Officer Clay Jones, a former fighter pilot, says there is room for both.

“Technology marches on. Obviously I have a great affinity for keeping a human in the loop. And I think a human will always be in the loop in some aircraft because there are certain missions that require a human to make judgments, and to do what only a human being can do, in the say heat of battle,” he said in an interview at the Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit.

“I mean it’s hard to see a UAV having enough situational awareness to do a dogfight, as an example,” Jones said. “However, unmanned aerial vehicles have certainly proven their merit in a number of missions, like reconnaissance.”

“So I think that there’s a clear opportunity for both types of systems to exist in the force structure,” Jones said.

Jones flew F-4 and F-15 fighter jets from 1972 to 1979 in the post-Vietnam period, he did not see combat. He still very much has the straight-shouldered posture of a fighter pilot and can’t hide his delight at how “very, very cool” the holographic image looks on the helmet visor of the F-35 which with the turn of the head will guide the radar. “Real Buck Rogers stuff,” he enthused.

“Now do I rue the day when we can’t enjoy the wonders of flight as a human being, absolutely I do, but you’re a realist, you have to recognize where technology brings advantages and use that technology to your benefit.”

Photo credit: Reuters/Molly Riley (Jones at Reuters summit)

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