Freia in the Sunlight
by Gregory Norman Bossert
Freia is beautiful, and she knows it. Richard Wooten says so, at 0:47.
Wisps and curls whip overhead, limned blue by starlight; the fog ceiling is lowering, the top tattered by the offshore wind. She drops another three meters, switches on ultrasonics. There are patches of trees here — “unmarked obstacles up to thirty meters” the map says — and she is skimming just twenty meters above the ground. The woods show up as ghostly towers in the sonics, blurred and dopplered by her two hundred thirty meters per second; further to her right the hills run parallel to her course, solid in passive radar and the occasional glimpse in visual light through the fog.
That occasional glimpse is a problem, of course; what she can see can see her back. Her beauty is hidden, these days, wrapped in night fogs and silence, not like the Demo in the sun. But today is different. Her Intelligence Package has been pulled, and the Extended Performance Metrics Recorder; a single unit fills her payload bay, an isolated control subsystem and minimal I/O. The last time she’d flown without the IntPack was at the Demo; it is possible, she thinks, that the mission today might be another, that the target will be a wide field in the sun, a billowing crowd, a platform and podium and Richard Wooten. She’d replayed the video during the long incoming leg over the ocean, rebuilt her profile of the Demo field, ready to find a match in the terrain ahead.
Richard Wooten says at 5:49:
What you are about to see is a first here at the Paris Air Show. In fact, it is a first at any public event, anywhere in the world. What you are about to see is fully autonomous flight. We’re not talking about an autopilot, or a preprogrammed route, or a replay out of one of the overused attack libraries our competitors are demonstrating at this same show. The mission parameters we’ve given are simply to maximize visibility to the target –that’s all of you (chuckles) — while covering the full range of flight capabilities, minimums to maximums. Those parameters were provided in natural language by the ApInt Director of Marketing. Yes, that’s me, ladies and gentlemen, Richard Wooten. No pilots, no programmers, no technical staff. Everything, from the analysis of the terrain and weather right down to the choice of route and individual maneuvers, everything you are about to see, will be determined in real-time by the onboard systems of this extraordinary unit.