Keep the U-2, Dump the Pilot?:

In an interview for C-Span that aired Sunday, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne said that the Air Force is now investigating ways in which it can prolong a pilot’s flight time in the high-flying U-2 reconnaissance aircraft or, perhaps, eliminate the pilot entirely when the mission requires a longer flight at such extreme altitudes than is humanly possible. The Air Force wanted to begin replacing the U-2 with the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle, but the current Global Hawk—although very good at its job—does not provide all the coverage of a U-2. A newer, larger Global Hawk is in the wings, but meanwhile there is this coverage gap that led Congress to prohibit early retirement of the U-2. The fact that the service might consider operating the U-2, which has some good years still, without a pilot is news. Meanwhile, the service has been upgrading the U-2 cockpit, providing enhanced pilot safety and flight controls, to sustain the aircraft through at least 2011.