I remember sitting in my living room with my dad when I was a kid, watching Clint Eastwood in “Firefox.” The jet was just…cool: twin vertical stabs, two big motors, a ton of wing, canards, and more. It was just a big, menacing beast of an airplane. Arguably the most “futuristic” quality of the fictional MiG-31 in those days was the ability for Eastwood’s character to manipulate certain aircraft systems using neuro-driven technology. “Think in Russian…-“
Fighter aircraft avionics have come so far, so fast that it’s hard to realize that only a century ago, the first U.S. Army Air Corps was doing battle over northern France in open cockpits equipped with shockingly rudimentary controls. Today, fighters like Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor are so fully-equipped with advanced head-up display technologies that one wonders whether neuro-activated flight controls are just around the next cloud.
For now, however, such neuro-tech remains the realm of the 1982 Clint Eastwood film “Firefox,” which features a fictional Soviet MiG-31 stealth aircraft that fires its weapons merely upon the pilot “thinking” such a command.
It’s pretty likely that someone is working on something very similar, aviation historian Donald Nijboer, author of “Fighting Cockpits: In the Pilot’s Seat of Great Military Aircraft from World War I to Today,” tells me. But he says such advanced neuro-avionics are likely still decades away, even if it’s debatable whether such tech would actually save time in the cockpit.
Nijboer says neuro-technology research is already underway on hands-free tech to control fighter aircraft. I guess a neurological cockpit would be the ultimate, he says, but as an F-22 pilot told me, “The Raptor can outsmart you; it’s that good.”