Instead, the plane flew itself like an outsized drone with continual monitoring of its autonomous manoeuvres performed by a pilot based on the ground.
The flight from Warton in Lancashire, to Inverness in Scotland by a British Aerospace Jetstream is being hailed as a milestone by members of ASTRAEA, a £62 million UK research consortium aiming to develop the technology that will allow civilian aircraft to share their airspace with drones – some of which could be as big as airliners.
The main thing ASTRAEA needs to get right is that sensing and avoiding capability, says Scanlan. "That's the showstopper at the moment. Without a pilot they need a sensing system to replace the Mark 1 eyeball – one that can tell a hot-air balloon from a cloud."
The aircraft – a 19-seat propeller-powered business jet – was not merely on autopilot. It tested the detect-and-avoid technology, which drones in civil airspace will need to have to ensure they keep their distance from other air traffic and automatically undertake collision-avoidance manoeuvres. The algorithm that runs this technology has been thrashed out with air-safety experts at the UK Civil Aviation Authority who have ensured it sticks to the "rules of the air" understood by pilots worldwide. If you liked this article, please give it a quick review on ycombinator or StumbleUpon. Thanks