Military remains committed to manned helicopter flight
Unmanned rotary aircraft will never fully replace piloted vehicles, with the combination of both types relieving the stress of the helicopter mission, according to military officials.
Speaking at the 2011 Defence IQ International Military Helicopter conference in London on 11 May, representatives of the Canadian and German armed forces argued that for the required capabilities to be delivered by military forces, both manned and unmanned platforms must be utilised.
When asked if the development of systems such as the Boeing Hummingbird UAV and the Kaman K-Max unmanned helicopter was a threat to manned helicopter piloting, the representatives responded that it was more of an opportunity than a problem.
'Being a pilot actually I don't find it a threat to myself. I actually see a significant place for remotely piloted, either autonomous or piloted from remote stations, for such systems,' said Lt Col Duart Townsend of the Canadian Land Forces Command.
'I pull back from the platform-specific view, and look more back to the capabilities, and say no matter how the capabilities are delivered – be it from remotely-piloted vehicles, or piloted vehicles, however it is – it is actually more important to maintain focus on what it is we want to achieve and why we're looking at delivering the capabilities.'
The conference heard that the ISR capabilities, logistics support, and ability to replenish and sustain platforms made non-piloted systems appealing in aiding helicopter missions.
Instead of additional platforms being introduced to deliver the hours demanded from helicopter missions, leading to a shortage in pilots, the addition of an unpiloted platform with longer working perimeters would serve to relieve both pressure and cost.
Col Jeff Tasserson, of the Canadian Forces transformation team, commented that there are different roles for manned and unmanned helicopters.
He said that the unmanned role was 'dull, dirty, and dangerous', and unmanned platforms will not be aiding in flood relief or picking up strayed fishermen any time soon.
Tasserson added that the cost of training a helicopter pilot is CAN$2.1-3.4 million ($2.2-2.5 million), and the return of investment on a pilot's training is getting longer.
'Anything that we can do, either to reduce those costs, or to allow the necessary expenditure of those resources to be focused on manned platforms, in my book is a good thing.’
Townsend concluded: 'There shouldn't necessarily be a view that there is a threat to a capability. There's more than enough airspace around.'
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