Drones Flying In Really Close Formation

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Air Force photo/Capt. Sean Chuplis

A KC-10 Extender aerial tanker refuels f-16s somewhere over Afghanistan

It has always been amazing to hang out at the rear of an Air Force refueling tanker as the boom extends to provide fuel to thirsty jet fighters below. Flying at hundreds of knots in close formation is a delicate, and dangerous, task, testing the pilots in control of both planes to the limit. Now imagine doing that with drones, instead of manned airplanes. The Pentagon is looking into it:

…over the last decade, advances in precision navigation and automated technology have opened up a new realm: automated refueling, where sensor feedback routines control the contact between receiver aircraft and tanker aircraft without control inputs from pilots. Flight tests beginning in the mid-2000s have pioneered methods for automation routines. And more is coming. Summer 2012 may see tests of one unmanned aircraft refueling another.

Rebecca Grant has the details in Air Force Magazine.