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Autonomous Planes Enter Testing Phase

You’ve probably heard about the various versions of autonomous cars being tested, but you may not have known aircraft are also riding the autonomous wave. With so much of aviation already controlled by a computer, this move comes as less of a surprise than driverless cars.

The latest test involves a Jetstream aircraft known as “the Flying Testbed” fitted with onboard sensors and autonomous systems taking to the skies over the UK. ASTRAEA (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment), the group behind the test, has received £62 million in funding from a combination of private investors and the UK government.

A 16-passenger Jetstream aircraft like the one shown above was fitted out for pilotless flight. Courtesy of AIS Flight Academy.

During the test, the modified Jetstream traveled 500 miles, monitored by National Air Traffic Services to ensure the safety of other aircraft in the test area. The onboard pilot managed both the takeoff and landing sequences without difficulty.

Along with a general testing of the systems involved with flying an autonomous plane, the test also gave air controllers and regulators a chance to consider what sort of guidelines would need to accompany future pilotless flights. The test represents seven years of research into the technology.

“In order to build on the momentum generated by ASTRAEA over the last seven years and preserve the  unitary approach to supporting the evolving regulatory environment in this important area, the ASTRAEA consortium  intend to continue to work closely with the regulatory authorities in the UK, Europe and globally,” said Simon Jewell, ASTRAEA Steering Board chairman.

Below you’ll find a video about ASTRAEA’s work on autonomous flight.


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