Ever since the first military drone took to the sky, pilots have wondered if their days in the fight were numbered. Drones, first relied on for reconnaissance, were soon armed and carrying out combat operations that used to fall solely to manned aircraft. Drones have grown to encompass more and more of the U.S. military’s aerial operations, but their use in complex missions has long been hindered by our means of control. A drone operated by a human being thousands of miles away simply lacks the situational awareness and rapid decision making capabilities that manned aircraft possess, making drones an effective means of delivering precision guided munitions, but ineffective in other airborne support roles like flying as the wing man for fighters policing the skies.

Programs like Loyal Wingman already aim to take pilots out of the seats of aging fighter jets like the F-16 or F/A-18 Hornet, putting them back in the fight as armed combat drones that would potentially accompany advanced fighters like the F-35 into contested airspace. The F-16 drones would fly support for the more expensive (and manned) aircraft that would simultaneously serve at the data transmission hub for the drone wingmen, and potentially, as the drone controller. New DARPA technology that has already proven capable of allowing a single pilot to control multiple aircraft using nothing but her brain could soon make swarms of drone wingmen a reality in combat zones around the world.

“As of today, signals from the brain can be used to command and control… not just one aircraft but three simultaneous types of aircraft,” Justin Sanchez, director of DARPA’s biological technology office, said at the agency’s recent 60th anniversary event. “The signals from those aircraft can be delivered directly back to the brain so that the brain of that user [or pilot] can also perceive the environment,” said Sanchez. “It’s taken a number of years to try and figure this out.”

This sort of technology may sound like science fiction, but it’s actually based on science that’s been around for some time. There are already a number of products available on the market that allow you to control anything from video games to electric motors. DARPA’s setup takes that concept to an extreme, however, forgoing the traditional headset in favor of a direct physical connection with the brain via a computer chip. DARPA was able to connect a paralyzed woman’s brain to an F-35 flight simulator in 2015, allowing her to control the steering of the aircraft. Since then, they’ve repeated the experiment with a paralyzed man named Nathan with even greater success. Nathan has been able to control up to three different aircraft simultaneously using only his mind.