Warplanes: March 20, 2003


Computer game technology is saving the lives of American bomber pilots. Through the 1990s, the U.S. developed 3-D computer modeling capability for terrain the world over. Using satellite photos and powerful computers, these systems could produce pictures (still and video) of what any terrain in the world looked like from the air or from the ground, or from an aircraft flying along it. But the computers needed to make this work were large and expensive. But by 1992 the Navy had two aircraft carriers equipped with a program called "Topscene" that allowed pilots to fly dangerous missions in a 3-D computer program first. Unfortunately, the computers needed to produce this degree of realism were the size of a small car and more expensive. But as computer games drove software and hardware developers to create more powerful and cheaper video capabilities for PC games, the capabilities needed for something like Topscene got cheaper and cheaper. Now the navy has 300 Topscene stations, including some that run on (beefed up) laptops. Topscene is another aspect of the growth of Mission Planning software in the last two decades. Mission Planning allows the pilots to rehearse missions, for the same reason one rehearses for anything, to make sure there are fewer errors when you do the real thing.


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