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Navy ‘Top Gun’ pilots using AI as wingmen

An F/A-18E Super Hornet launches from Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), Mar. 3, 2022. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kelsey Trinh/US Navy)
October 25, 2023

U.S. Navy “Top Gun” pilots can use artificial intelligence software to help land carrier planes on U.S. aircraft carriers.

According to Rebecca Grant, president of IRIS Independent Research, the U.S. Navy is anticipating using artificial intelligence to help the 5,000 men and women on America’s 11 aircraft carriers in the event of a future conflict with China, Fox News reported.

Grant noted that artificial intelligence is expected to help carrier planes with difficult landings and fly unmanned fuel tankers for combat planes.

Grant referenced the “Top Gun” movies that feature Tom Cruise portraying Maverick, a Navy pilot, landing an F/A-18EF Superhornet on an aircraft carrier. According to Grant, the Navy has discovered that artificial intelligence is able to help carrier planes with difficult landing maneuvers through a software program called Precision Landing Mode.

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According to Grant, the USS Gerald R. Ford, which was recently deployed to the eastern Mediterranean Sea to deter Iran and other nations and groups in the Middle East from escalating the current war between Israel and Hamas, was the first aircraft carrier to test artificial intelligence’s Precision Landing Mode.

U.S. Navy experts have noted that while pilots are exceptionally trained, the last step in the landing process on an aircraft carrier is very difficult.

“You’ll see the white knuckles, the shaky knees, and you can see the expression on the face of somebody who’s just landed on an aircraft carrier at night for the first time,” Capt. Dan Catlin, commanding officer of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106, told U.S. Naval Institute News during a previous test of the Precision Landing Mode software.

Catlin explained that the final step of landing a plane on an aircraft carrier typically requires pilots to make roughly 300 adjustments to the aircraft’s flight path. On the other hand, with the artificial intelligence-powered Precision Landing Mode, the aircraft carrier landing process only required a handful of adjustments to be made by the pilots.

“What we saw was a lot of confident aviators who realized that technology is really making something that was supposed to be incredibly hard actually a little bit of fun,” Catlin stated.

Rear Admiral Steven Tedford, who leads the Navy’s systems development and unmanned programs at Maryland’s Patuxent River Naval Air Station, has explained that the Navy will continue incorporating more artificial intelligence throughout its fleet.

“If we have trust in autonomy, we can then make the move to truly artificial intelligence and in the future of the air wing,” he said.