With no fanfare and little media notice, an extremely famous American will turn 60 years old this Sunday. It was on Tax Day in 1952 that the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, hulking symbol of the Cold War, accident-prone target of the unkind acronym "B.U.F.F.," the bomber several generations believed would usher in the death of humanity, made its first flight.
More striking than the B-52's military longevity, however, writes Tim Cavanaugh, is the question of why we're still putting pilots into the cockpits of military aircraft at all. With each passing week, the arguments for moving to all-unmanned military aviation attain greater speed and elevation, and the case for maintaining piloted warplanes sputters closer to the ground. Yet manned military aircraft systems continue to pull in hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. The future of military aviation is unmanned, Cavanaugh observes. The sooner it comes, the better.