If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week’s Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best quibble from our assembled masses and discuss it in a future edition of Geek Trivia.

This week’s quibble comes from the Feb. 24, 2009 edition of Geek Trivia, “The (un)man with the plan.” TechRepublic member cjc5447 disputed the level of autonomy held by a certain groundbreaking unmanned aerial vehicle:

“The RQ-4 is the first unmanned aircraft to be granted permission to fly in Positive Control Airspace (PCA) over the United States by the FAA, but this aircraft does not file its own flight plans, and it is not completely autonomous. There are rated pilots at a ground station (at Beale AFB, CA or Edwards AFB, CA) who file a flight plan and control the aircraft from engine start to shutdown for each mission. Of course the aircraft is on autopilot most of the time, but a pilot still controls it remotely. The PCA ends at 60,000 ft altitude though, so above that (if you can get up that high) you can do whatever you want.”

This is perhaps a more cogent description of the RQ-4’s credentials; it’s the first aircraft allowed to fly in U.S. commercial airspace without a human either onboard or actively at the controls. It can be autopiloted the whole time — from takeoff to landing — and the FAA trusts the system enough to let it share the same chunk of sky that passenger airliners use, if only because an Air Force pilot is on standby to take over by remote control. Nonetheless, it’s still one step closer to a flying Terminator. Thanks for the quibble, and keep them coming!

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