View Full Version : Plans underway for Pilotless pax A/C

19th Jul 2004, 20:11
Today in Flight I read about a study comissioned by EU into creating pilotless passenger aircraft.

Here comes another great idea for saving on crew pay.

Who comes up with these ideas?


19th Jul 2004, 20:17
For example Mr. Mayrhuber, CEO of LUFTHANSA.

But I'm sure he's not the only one.....

Funny, in his younger days he tried to become a pilot with Austrian, Swissair and Lufthansa, without success ;)


unmanned transport
19th Jul 2004, 21:45
Some UAVs and UCAVs are increasing in size and are able to carry heavier loads and I believe that it is just a matter of time until a pilotless freighter aircraft takes to the skies. Technology marches on. THis will have a mighty impact on the air transportation industry.

19th Jul 2004, 21:49
I wouldn't get on one - or fancy having one flying over my house.
At a guess we'll run out of oil before these things become reality :ooh:

19th Jul 2004, 22:08
The technology isn't far away but the problem lies in liability claims. If an aircraft crashes the manufacturer would be directly responsible. Every time there is a disaster the pilot is always first choice for the blame, unfairly or not.

Just my opinion of course!


2 Wings

19th Jul 2004, 22:10
"Ladies and Gentlemen, as you will have noticed, we have started our take-off run and are currently accelerating through 100 knots. XXX Airways are proud to announce that you are sitting in the first pilotless airliner. Please be assured that all systems are triplicated to ensure safety and are entirely reliable...tirely reliable...tirely reliable..."

19th Jul 2004, 22:23
I know we laugh about this but, I believe that a pilotless CARGO aircraft is a real possibility. Afterall there are plenty of routes across the poles, for example, where the consequences of a hull loss are minimised. A few extra track miles to ensure that the aircraft does not fly over populated areas will cost a lot less than two pilots. I reckon within a few years we will have this technology. I don't see a pax pilotless aircraft as being a viable proposition until the technology has been proven which of course it will eventually be. I just hope that does not happen until after I retire!

19th Jul 2004, 23:27
The technology to do this already exists today but it needs a lot of work and a huge amount of testing before we'll ever see it. The biggest obsticle is the communications link between the UAV and the ground *pilot*.

This data link must be fast enough to relay real-time video from at least 1 hull mounted camera, RT transmission and all the required flight data that will supply the 'virtual' cockpit on the ground. This datalink, which would need to provide at least 600kb/s of bandwidth can only be provided by a very expensive and less than 100% reliable satlink.

There is a company in Italy developing a UAV to carry 60kg of payload, it's use is reported to be within the commercial extreme urgent parcel sector.

Also, if you think about it, the UAV needs at least a pilot of some description on the ground plus a whole host of tech support guys, so is there really a significant cost saving to be had?

I don't think we'll see the first pax aircraft for an least 10 years.

19th Jul 2004, 23:49
The first pilotless military aircraft, other than reconaissance drones, are at least ten years away. These are being developed more for extreme manoeuvrability (ie can't go outside about -3 to +9g with a human on board) than for cost reasons.

It's taken about twenty to thirty years for HUD's and fly-by-wire to get from fighters to airliners. I can't see pilotless civil aircraft in widespread use for another thirty years or so.

I retire in thirty five years... Hope my prediction is right!


Straight Up Again
20th Jul 2004, 00:14
I don't agree that UAVs still need a 'pilot' on the ground. After all, with the use of autopilots and nav computers, all you have to do is upload a flight plan and send the aircraft on its way. Current aircraft with pilots can be flown in this manner, with only the push of a button. Add autoland and some sort of auto take off, and ther you are (or in the pilot's case, aren't).

Autonomous, robotic UAVs are already here (all be it a bit too small too carry much cargo or pax), look at Aerosonde (http://www.aerosonde.com/) .

I still wouldn't like to travel on one, or have one operate around me. I like the man in the loop to take care of the unexpected events. I reckon for every case of pilot error there must be hundreds of 'pilot saves the day' after a failure/emergency.

20th Jul 2004, 00:32
.....course a UAV needs a pilot or some kind of handling team on the ground. ATC would prefer to speak to a human I'm sure.

ATC "Unmannedxxx turn left 345 decent to 3,000"
UAV "unmannedxxx bad command or filename"

Seriously though it's not a case of uploading a flight plan and away you go, any flight between A and B involves the pilots interpreting and acting upon 1,000 of variables some can be handled automatically others need a human.

unmanned transport
20th Jul 2004, 02:40
Flight safety will increase when more of the human factor is removed.

Which company will launch the first pilotless transport?

Airbus or Boeing.

20th Jul 2004, 05:57
There will need to be some sort of 'pilot' on the ground overseeing one or a number of aircraft. Think how often pilots currently change the flight path in response to realtime weather, traffic, turbulence etc. Especially the weather.

Desert Nomad
20th Jul 2004, 06:18
I for one would never want to get on one without two folks up the front. There have been a number of incidents where Cpt and FO have managed to get an aircraft out of a tight spot. Tried to recreate it in the sim and that has failed. The computers will never have the instict that you get from thousands of hours of experience.

The only time I would like to see an aircraft controlled from the ground would be in a terrorist or hijack situation where complete control is lost in the cockpit and the aircraft brought in remotely.

Keep up the good work, I can't see it ever happening. Hope I'm right on that one.

404 Titan
20th Jul 2004, 07:45
Computers are very good at yes and no situations. They are lousy at maybe situation that are presented to us every time we go flying. Weather, ATC, other aircraft, personal experiences all present hundreds if not thousands of maybe situations every time we go flying. There is no computer on this planet that is capable of interpreting these situations. Until computers are developed that have true artificial intelligence we wonít see pilot less passenger aircraft. It is one thing having pilot less drones, it is another having truly pilot less passenger aircraft. Some of you may say then put the pilot on the ground. Yes sure we could do this today. What is stopping it though is there is no saving to be made for the airlines. The reality is it would probably cost them considerably more. All innovation in this industry are driven by cost savings. If there arenít any then it wonít happen.

20th Jul 2004, 07:49
I'm with you, Nomad. We all like autopilot, and the technology makes it easier to navigate and control the AC in hairy situations. But as SLF, I just wouldn't feel comfortable with a machine making ALL descisions. Sometimes it's just better to have crewmen making choices, even though they might make human errors. Humans may make mistakes, but planes don't crash as often as my computer does.

United 232, for example. Let a machine make the descisions and do as well as those four pilots in that DC-10. See how long it goes before it overloads and decides that it has reached an "Error...error..." that it needs time to figure out...while the plane spirals to the ground. How do you program a computer that can calculate every single thing that may go wrong in an emergency situation?

An aircraft that may be commanded from the ground in case of a total loss of aircrew...fine. Bring the technology. Use it to increase safety and reliability. But remember who is the one that is in command of that technology and leave him in a position where he may best exercise that command.

20th Jul 2004, 10:05
I wonder how a pilotless aircraft could detect the arrival of a flock of Canada Geese on the runway just as it commences its take-off run?
I suspect that the savings in personnel in the air would be more than matched by the increase in personnel on the ground required to monitor every eventuality.

20th Jul 2004, 10:07
I don't think we'll see a pilotless pax aircraft during our lifetime, but take a look at this:


Powerplant: Twin 100 hp Rotax engines
Dimensions: Wingspan 18m, fuselage length 9.4m
Weight: 1650kg
Performance: Endurance over 26hrs, Altitude over 33kft, max speed 130 [email protected].
Multi-payload capability: Up to 350 kg
Complete redundancy of all sub-systems: Engines, flight computer, avionics, mechanical and power supply
Datalink: LOS and/or Satellite comm.
Guidance/Tracking: Fully autonomous or manual flight

The only thing it needs to fly in UK airspace is certification. In theory it can be fairly easily certified with the addition of a 360 degree camera for VFR/landing/taxi and TCAS. Everything else is already installed it would just need a LOT of testing.

Possible commercial applications:
Express Parts Delivery (Airlines/Oil industry/Post to islands)
Coastal surveillance

20th Jul 2004, 10:19
The technology is there and has been for several years now. The only thing lacking, is "passenger appeal."

You may recall that last year? the Americans flew a pilotless A/C from the USA to Australia, non stop. Then it returned.

404 Titan
20th Jul 2004, 10:37
The technology is there and has been for several years now.
I can assure you that the technology doesnít exist to make a passenger aircraft pilot less and autonomous. There is no computer currently available or will be available in the near future that could provide the artificial intelligence that would be required by the authorities to make pilot less passenger carrying autonomous aircraft a reality. Having the aircraft remotely piloted from the ground is possible but the expense of doing this would be prohibitive therefore the airlines wouldnít take it up.
You may recall that last year? the Americans flew a pilotless A/C from the USA to Australia, non stop. Then it returned.
I think you and others here are forgetting that military UAV whether they are the Predator or the Global Hawk, have been built to be expendable. That is why they are unmanned. Infact the Americans have lost quite a few due to tech problems and sending them into hostile environments.

20th Jul 2004, 10:41
404 Titan: I agree 100% but cargo is a possible in the near future. As already stated in this post, the technology exisits. However, we'll not see a pax aircraft in our lifetimes.

Notso Fantastic
20th Jul 2004, 11:20
Go stand on a mainline station and count how many driverless trains come in! The technology has come far, hasn't it? Not even any driverless trains on the Channel Tunnel? Maybe a few light ones on single line short tracks. Would you want 400 tons of heavy aeroplane flying low over your abode? Would you conceivably get in one with your family and rely on automatics only? Are pilots such an expensive option compared to all the expense of designing and installing (and proving!) all these automatics. Don't worry about it!

20th Jul 2004, 11:33
The DLR is driverless and, whilst not comparable to mainline operations, it is a multi-track multi-unit operation.

Maybe there SHOULD be more driverless trains seeing as most fatal crashes in recent years have been influenced by human error. Sadly, of course, in this country it would somehow cost several million billion pounds!!!

20th Jul 2004, 12:02
This is a general note. Why is the human race hell bent on removing themselves from doing anything in the name of progress. What will be the point of existing. We will all end up flipping burgers, pouring coffee and working in call centres oh only if you live in India of course!

20th Jul 2004, 12:48
Desert Nomad

There have been a number of incidents where Cpt and FO have managed to get an aircraft out of a tight spot. Tried to recreate it in the sim and that has failed.

It is true. However it is not a big number and I know you want to recall UAL DC10 landing in the States with total hygraulic failure.

However (acting as a devil's advocate) I would like to remind you that as per Flight Safety Foundation report about 70% of all accidents are caused by flight crew errors. And that's excluding sabotage, military actions, turbulence injury and evacuation injury.

20th Jul 2004, 12:58
Oh goodie!! my countless hours behind Flight Simmulator will pay off at last! :E

20th Jul 2004, 12:58
An unmanned aircraft will still need human's operating it, they just wouldn't be in the cockpit and they may be able to control more than 1 plane at once. However, because a human is in overall command it will be subject to human errors, just like in every cockpit today. in fact the risk of an accident is much greater because the human controlling it could be hundreds of miles from the situation the aircraft is in and therefore unable to make informed decisions in the way crew do today.

So, a Unmanned PAX aircraft will not happen in the lifetime of anyone who currently posts on this forum but you've all got to see that commercially there's a market for non-pax UAV's for obs, and cargo. or am I wrong?

20th Jul 2004, 13:08
As all aircraft are designed by humans, you could say that humans are responsable for 100% of accidents!;)


20th Jul 2004, 15:23
Desert Nomad said:

The only time I would like to see an aircraft controlled from the ground would be in a terrorist or hijack situation where complete control is lost in the cockpit and the aircraft brought in remotely.

LINK ONE (http://www.iasa.com.au/folders/RoboLander_files/RoboLander1.html)

LINK TWO (http://www.iasa.com.au/folders/RoboLander_files/RoboLander.htm)

LINK THREE (http://search.freefind.com/find.html?id=8969355&pageid=r&mode=ALL&query=RoboLander&SUBMIT=+Find%21+)

Sultan Ismail
20th Jul 2004, 15:24
The technology does exist for modern aircraft to fly the route unaided. Pre 9/11 I jumpseated a 777 from Brisbane to Kuala Lumpur, and was assured by the Captain that without his input the aircraft was configured to track across South East Asia to Kuala Lumpur, descend, approach, land and taxi off the runway before further input was required.

One small step...

On another plane, sorry about that, railways are increasingly going over to driverless operation, apart from the aforementioned DLR, the Kuala Lumpur LRT system 2 is entirely automatic, based on the Vancouver Skytrain. And work is currently underway to impart the same technology to Londons Underground.

In your lifetime, most definitely yes.....

The transfer of control is similar for aircraft and trains, the one will require a co-ordinated regional ATC, the other will require Centralised Traffic Control (CTC). Both systems are already well established worldwide.

Takes off anorak and pops over to the pub...

Old Smokey
20th Jul 2004, 15:39
The bottom line in the human trust / distrust ratio of computer technology is that if, today, passengers boarded a flight which was announced as fully automated, they would get off.

In 20 years (or maybe less) if the same passengers boarded a flight operated by humans, they would get off.

20th Jul 2004, 16:24
My opinion;
Firstly the stats saying 70% of accidents are Human related do not take into account the amount of times around the world that a 'human' pilot saves the day just by doing some simple task in the event of a system failing, an unusual met condition, Wake turbulence, spotting some Ice on / or damage to the control surfaces / airframe. a flock of birds, another aircraft... the list gos on for ever. In short they tell us the BAD things we may have had something to do with but not all the GOOD things we did do!)

Next we have unlawful acts / interf. Since the 40s it has been possible to jam electro-magnetic signals (British counter to German Radio Nav Aids over UK airspace) since the 50s / 60s aircraft like the Avro Vulcan have had EM jamming kit so powerful it could not be used without parlimentry concent! today the UK Govenment can block all nav aids including all L1 / L2p GPS in the UK! not to mention Mobile phones, Radar, TV,.... How easy would it be for 'him who will remain name less' to fund some bright spark at a university to build devices to be placed in several tower blocks in one or more major cities, that when used against UAVs over London for example, could cause a biblical disaster! (oh by the way don't think IRS would save you as that can be sabotarged with even more ease)

Datalink could be Hacked/overpowered and commanded to cause an accident also.

Then there is the fact that no one in there right mind would get on one, it just isn't worth it! in the end when we count the costs and amount of CAA / FAA costly rules that will spring up (They will want to see proof of effective safety well in excess of ten to the minus nine). I can't see it being worth the risks, But I know there are people with money, who would like to make even more, who would love to try to get these things in to the sky and it dose frighten me.

20th Jul 2004, 17:14
The reality is that it would be insanity to have commercial sized jets flown by an onboard computer or ground computer. All signals can be jammed. Even the military channels. Learning how to jam them is not that difficult. Anyone with half a brain can get plans to build a gps jammer and buy the components at Radio Shack for a trivial amount of money.

There are commercially available electronics for less than 500 USD that are as small as a cell phone that will block all communication to and from the airplane.

Lets not make it easy for them to someday take out 100s of planes in one day all over the world. :mad:

20th Jul 2004, 17:16
Isn't the reason why military UAVs can be used despite the fairly high failure rate precisely because they are expendable?

20th Jul 2004, 18:18
I'm willing to back London Underground to get rid of their winging, overpaid and greedy drivers.

Lets have driverless underground trains!:mad:

20th Jul 2004, 18:36
This post has made me laugh sooo hard!!

Trust me...there will never be in the next 100 years a pilotless aircraft flying passengers around the world. When you have the millions of Aircraft constantly moving around the world in unending changing environments and situations it will never happpen. Machines would have to have the capablility to make decisions, and make the absolute right decision in every instance, hundreds of times each and evey flight. There are millions of circumstances that many are vague and need the many years of human experience and insight coupled together with knowledge and training and proceedural discipline just like any other professional occupation, that keep the millions of passengers safe and flying every day.

Comparisons to driverless trains on rails? Hahaha....don't make me laugh so hard!!

20th Jul 2004, 18:48
Yes good point; Trains do run on rails ..Planes fly in chaos.

20th Jul 2004, 19:07
This thread is very interesting. Perhaps I can attempt to move it into the area of fact.
First Fact. I know it to be a fact because someone I know well is working on it for a large airline. Studies are underway to see how any repetition of 9/11 can be prevented by switching the aircraft on to automatic control if there is any threat to the flight deck crew. If switched on the automatic controls would then land the aircraft automatically at the nearest suitable equipped airport. It would be impossible for either of the pilots to intervene at any stage after that. The technology already exists in numerous aircraft to make this possible. The issue is not can it be made possible but does it add to security and reduce the risks of terrorist/hijacker intervention. I know that where it has been debated the overwhelming balance of the argument has been in favour of enhanced security to prevent any unauthorised access to the flight deck.
Second Fact. Pilotless flying requires a very large amount of radio communication with the aircraft. Yes it does. But this is no problem to achieve. Some years ago I was involved in a study with a major European airline into future information technology requirements. One issue was vastly increased communications with the aircraft at all times. Something way beyond the current capabilities was envisaged. We teamed up with a leading American defence contractor to assess the possibilities. The conclusion was that unlimited bandwidth was available then. JSTARS and the US Airborne command centres already have this capability and have had for a long time. So there is no constraint there.
Third Fact. Does the technology already exist and is it being used. One of the design criteria for JSTARS was to automate the fighter command systems. That is to ensure that an aircraft can be automatically be directed to a new target without any voice commands. I have no way of knowing if that requirement was not met but JSTARS was so successful in the Gulf War (1991) that is reasonable to assume that it was. So let us assume that if there is perceived to be a need to use such technology in civil aircraft the technology model already exists.
Fourth Fact. The use of an automated flight system that has no human intervention on the aircraft assumes that the message to which the aircraft will respond will always be authentic and that only that aircraft will receive that command. The technology for this on military data transfer already exists and is old hat. True there do still seem to be some problems about target identification but these seem to be human related and to incompatibility between different nationís systems.
Fifth Fact. I have known and worked with hundreds of pilots. Everyone of them believes that the wide availability of ILS and blind landing capability has improved flight safety. They put huge trust in a system which works.
Sixth Fact. The combination of ground mapping radar and satellite navigation can provide for extremely accurate flying even in the worst terrain. Low flying military aircraft have proved this even within mountainous areas.
Seventh Fact. The technology already exists to guide and direct ground based vehicle extremely accurately. Numerous safe driverless railway systems are the basis for this. Guided buses are now being introduced.

EightFact Eight UAVís already exist, admittedly for very limited missions so far.

Fact Nine. Jamiing can be rendred impossible by continuous frequency hopping.

The situation for aviation is that if pilotless aircraft are seen to be desirable for whatever reason then all that needs to happen is for these technologies to converge.

That is the simple bit. It could certainly happen if it was regarded as essential. But the problems are immense, nevertheless.

Problem One. The system would have to undergo widespread testing and proving before any sort of publics or professional confidence could be created.

Problem Two. The major improvements to current systems would have to come in Air Traffic Control and in ground movement control at airports. Changes in ATC are long, slow and cautious and rightly so. The ATC improvements in Europe which have improved punctuality and increased capacity in recent years were initially planned more than twenty years ago.

Problem Three . Is that any move to pilotless management of aircraft would take decades to introduce. Just take the assumption that the next new aircraft after the 7E7 were to be the first to have full pilotless capability. Assume that such an aircraft were introduced at the earliest in 2012. By then there are likely to be around 30,000 airliners in the world. To replace them would take three decades.

Just think about it. Yes the technology probably is there or could be there quite soon. But the reality is that there is no chance of any pilotless passenger aircraft for around a decade at least, more likely two decades. It will take a long time to become common.

I do not think there is any threat to the career of any current civilian pilot because of this. Sleep easy out there but for your grandchildren it might just be normal to fly in pilotless aircraft. After all if the technology exists it gets used.

20th Jul 2004, 19:17
...70% of accidents are Human related...

100 % of those flights wich does not end in an accident do so in spite of and/or thanks to the humans up front.

20th Jul 2004, 20:10
EEErr.... Sorry (as far as I'm aware and correct me if I'm wrong) that only works if you have some little devise with limited range.

Even in the 60s The RAE / RAF had developed Long range energy burst mercury coil jamming devises which just completely disrupts all electromagnetic signals within a given area. I mean micro to mega wave. All!

20th Jul 2004, 20:18

Your wrong about making it so that it can't be jammed. Anything can be jammed. If man can make it, man can break it.

The US military GPS was supposed to be unjammable, but it is easily done because the people that designed it were to arrogant to know any better.

Even if the jammer is frequency chasing to catch up to the aircraft system it only has to dissrupt so many data packets to corrupt the commands enough that the plane won't know what to do. :cool:

20th Jul 2004, 21:25
I was flying one day a couple of years ago and NOTAMS warned of GPS NAV-STAR AND GLONASS jamming by the UK Ministry of Defence along my route. I thought 'OH yer! they'll have fun trying to manage that! so I turned on the GPS and guess what?....Not a sausage, totally useless. So Much for Pseudo Random Noise codes being unjammable. But what got me is they did it without jamming civil freq. which worked fine!
Also thatís not to mention the fact that the American Defence Dept. can invoke SA at any time without telling anybody!

20th Jul 2004, 23:56
Signal Jamming or loss for any other reason can be overcome.

The aircraft would continue flying on it's own for a short time, observing it's route plan/TCAS/WX etc. If after this time, say for the sake of arguement 5 minutes the data link is still down/jammed the the on-board computer changes squark code to reflect lack of comms and lands at the nearest suitable ILS airfield.

The ground control unit will already know which one it's going to land at because they will have programmed the suitable airfields into the UAV and phoned ahead at let ATC know whats happening.

Thegoaf: the technology already exists like you said, and I think within the next 10yrs we'll see the odd light payload cargo UAV making it's first trip. All that needs to happen is the available technology be fitted into a small space and certified by the CAA (or whichever country it will fly in).

PAX aircraft? narrhhhh, 40-50yrs maybe.

Last point: CAP722 published by the CAA details their position on UAV's :ok:

21st Jul 2004, 01:15
The point I'm trying to make is in EM energy Jamming you Jam everything! within a range equal to about 3 X the square of the power output on each Freq. band. I Was talking to my Uncle (who was at the RAE as well as an RAF radar Chef-tech) about this some months ago and he said that means;

No coms, No ILS, No MLS, No GPS or DGPS, No TCAS II, No GPWS, No VOR, No DME or PDME, No TV, No Classic FM and ya ADF will just point at the Jammed.

Remember also the Jammer's technology is always newer than the technology of the encoder.

21st Jul 2004, 04:06
The reliabilty is a big factor. I do not doubt that it'll be possible to design an aircraft that can fly half-way around the globe without aircrew however; I don't have much faith in computers. It must be that I posses the magic finger that makes them crash, whether it is Win98, 2000 or even the FS Emb 145 sim crashes once in a while. The V-22 crashed due to a software error.

But how long will this plane last? The older electronics get the more problems there'll be. Looking back at my flight school days, there was not one week where we did not have an inoperable King transponder. If a transponder is not even built to last a week within its five to seven year lifespan, what about more complex avionics? The Citation V Ultra I flew for a short while liked to be flown to the Citation Service Center.

Finally, take a look at all the ADs issued for transport category airplanes: Within the first few years a ton of bugs have to be sorted out. With the new generation glass cockpits, I highly doubt that there'll be an error-free operation. The main job of the aircrew in the future will be to perform airborne warm and cold resets ...

7 7 7 7

21st Jul 2004, 08:30
The technical investment to produce a fully automatic air transport system - not just the aircraft but all the operational stuff that surrounds it - would be considerable. If done from scratch but adapting as much as possible from existing airframes electronics, procedures, etc, the level of develpment effort might be somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 man years ..maybe 8 to 15 billion dollars in current money. That's a lot to swallow.... especially for a very slow payback..if any.

The maintenance and support costs associated with qualifying and operating robotic aircraft are not so clearly better. Lots of technicians needed in the loop. Not cheap. And harder to manage. Much less disciplined than aircrew meeting contemporary standards.

Chances are, pilots will be more economical than the whole robotics bit for a long time to come. Liability is part of it... customer perception.. economics. None of these are screaming for full automation.

Likelier is some gradual evolution from more 'handling' to less, and gradually increasing the population of crews and planes ok for cat3 type operations. Automation that reduces tech stops and increases successful arrivals in dicey weather will pay for itself much sooner than the full automation deal.

Good pilots are a bargain. Always have been.

21st Jul 2004, 09:50
No coms, No ILS, No MLS, No GPS or DGPS, No TCAS II, No GPWS, No VOR, No DME or PDME, No TV, No Classic FM and ya ADF will just point at the Jammed.

If what you say is correct (I don't doubt you) then any airliner, piloted or un piloted could not land, so whats your point?

21st Jul 2004, 10:32
Just another point:
Autoland these days referred as the safest method of landing. Landing is one of the most critical phase of the flight and we all trust autoland, aren't we? How many accidents were related to autoland error/failure? Not many at all.

Rod Eddington
21st Jul 2004, 10:53

I think the point D-U-S is trying to make is that with all those failures 2 pilots on board would have to navigate visually, keep a damn good lookout, follow comms failure procedures and look out for light signals from atc. or at least something along those lines - certainly leaves a reasonable chance of getting out alive.

no pilots on board, they'd all crash.

i know which one i'd prefer!

21st Jul 2004, 12:59
Rod Eddington is correct, thatís my point, if such a dreadful event were to happen over Londonís crowded sky now, aircraft would stop taking off at that point and all those wishing to land would do so using procedure. I'm not saying that it would be without mishap if the weather were very bad but London would not be covered in flaming wrecks! You are correct in thinking that Man can build such systems i.e. UAV Transports, but the real point is SHOULD HE? Just because we can do it, should we do it? Leaving humans increasingly out of the loop.

The problems I have pointed out are not machine problems, they are very human! and that must include the makers and users of such things who put human error in from the first rivet! I have seen films of Global Hawk spinning in to the ground, Why?, human error? well in a way yes! we made it that crap!

CargoOne Many others here including myself also make the financial point that research and reliability costs £££ before you even build one unit. The first Cat 3 was I believe the BEA Tri-star fleet here in the UK and for that they (UK CAA) had to prove system reliability of ten to the minus nine (one chance in hell of going wrong) for UAVs they'd want even greater success rates as human intervention would be much more remote. And remember when Cat 3 goes wrong, as it is, just press GO/TO now how many times has that happened? The Point here is Auto land is only so great (if a little heavy on the spin) because it is the perfect combination of man and 'Fail Operational' machine and even if an approach looks even just a bit doubtful, you chuck it away.... no accident statistics blaming anything but no pat on the back either as you have just done your job!

21st Jul 2004, 13:33
D-U-S and Rod E I see exactly what your saying, and agree with you 99%, I'm just purely ensuring that both the for and against argument are put forward on this topic.

Consider the scenario again of all signals over London being jammed. All the aircraft in the sky at that point would struggle like hell to get their planes down and I doubt it would happen without a serious accident.

A passenger carrying UAV would certainly crash, no doubt. That is why we'll never see a PAX UAV in our lifetimes.

Now imagine a CARGO carrying UAV in the same situation over London. It's loss-of-comms software would turn the aircraft towards the sea, fly as far away from land as possible and ditch. Loss of life zero (unless there was a ship in the way!). Loss of cargo and hull - insured.

I'm going to maintain there's a real market for cargo carrying UAV's - I don't mean 747 sized but one's capable of carrying 100kg 1,000 miles across the UK, Europe or the States.

21st Jul 2004, 16:39

Any half way smart person can get the plans off the internet and go to Radio Shack and for measly money make a unit that will make it very hard for any airport to accept traffic. The only reason it is not done is that you paint a target on yourself by sending out so much signal. If them dumbass terrorists ever figure it out, baghdad airport will be a only operate during the day and your flying manual. You also won't be talking to the tower either.

A cargo UAV? All alone out over the ocean? Golly, sounds like you will generate a whole new bread of pirates that will hyjack the signal and direct the UAV to land at some remote island where it's cargo is offloaded and then send it back on its merry way. That sounds really brilliant.

If man can make it, man can break it. That is gospel in the electronics industry. :E

21st Jul 2004, 16:50
Loss of cargo and hull - insured

Yes they would be insured however this goes back to liability. The insurance companies would try to blame the manufacturer for not having a system in place for this event, and as we know you can't plan for every eventuality. The manufacturer would have no one else to blame (i.e. pilots) and would have to take the rap (Imagine that!!!). Also adapting to the unknown is something humans do well at. One unfortunate thing we are seeing in modern automation is humans being taken out of the loop, this is something that I feel should be addressed.


21st Jul 2004, 16:57
747Focal - If man can make it man can break it - very very true.

Seriously though, with all the authentication protocols available today hijacking the control signal between a UAV and it's ground control would be very very difficult, if not dare I say this to Mr. Focal impossible? Frequency hopping, 128bit data encryption, message authentication etc etc.

What is perfectly possible is to block the signal, but if the aircraft is at cruising alt and speed you'd have to be following it in another aircraft to jam the signal for any meaningful amount of time. If that did happen then yes, software in the UAV would have to find some water and ditch in it. Then the Cessna float plane that was following it would land beside it, break into it and steal the knitting needles, parrot, used panties that it was transporting (refer to the strangest freight thread in Cargo). :ok:

21st Jul 2004, 17:17
Ahh! But what if young FOCAL hides his transmitter into a package full of panties which is then put in the cargo hold of that very UAV then he could have all the knickers he ever wanted! LOL

But with Freq. encoding alternation you have a message with a 'bit' telling the receiver what Freq. your going to next. If F.O.Focal can get his hands on another receiver chip he has the code! Or there are other ways, basically it's another case like the Nazi 'Enigma' machine; they thought the Brits could not break the code, but they didn't know the Brits had just pinched a whole Enigma machine! Or take PRN code used on GPS they said it could not be interfered with but not only can the UK government do it but it just needs a couple of TV transmitters and bad atmospherics to mess it up completely.

21st Jul 2004, 17:41

I would challenge you to look at the TV satellite industry. All over the world their signal is hyjacked and they have put billions into deriving an inpenatrible system. Everytime they think they have it licked, the hackers get back in. No matter where you are, for a couple hundred bucks and some reading you can gert free TV anywhere in the world and there is nothing they can do to stop you. Those UAV would constantly be going through costly hardware upgrades to combat takeover by a flying pirate(thats what I meant in my previous post).


It would only be a matter of time before insurance companies would no longer insure UAVs if they were constantly getting hyjacked

21st Jul 2004, 18:21
Focal: It's one thing cobbling something together so you can watch free porn on sat TV but being able to hijack the channel and broadcast your own TV programmes is some very different. So yes hackers could get hold of information about where a UAV is and what instructions are being sent to it (which could be used criminally) but actually taking control by sending your own instructions would be a hell of a lot harder. neverless I'm sure someone here will say it's possible.

The insurance question is a difficult one. The CAA's publication tells the world that a UAV must be controlled at all times by a PIC and that the operating company must be correctly licensed to operated commercially. Therefore the liability in the event of a crash rests with them as in the rest of the industry. Of course if it can be proved that the UAV equipment was at fault the insurer could counter claim against the manufacturer, who would then counter claim against equipment supplier etc etc. the counter claim chain could go on forever.
One thing is for sure, if these to ever get airbourne the insurance premium will be high, maybe creating another barrier for operators/developers.

21st Jul 2004, 20:16
So were agreed then, UAV's are a long, long way off if ever! Phew...

Capt. Blackbeard.... I mean 2Wings:p


21st Jul 2004, 21:14
I would not say breaking a billion dollar encryption code that changes every eight seconds cobbled together. I only used that as an example of what learned individuals can do if they really want to. Be it for profit or be it for extremist means, if they want it bad enough they will figure out a way to do it.


Here is just another example. You can jam the spectrum if you want regardless of the encryption.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), announced today that it will move forward with a plan to jam radio signals entering Canada from commercial radio stations originating inside the United States.

The $125 million project is expected to take 3 years to complete.

The Commission has contracted a Cuban technology company to provide and install 38 radio frequency jamming stations in every province.

At this time, the CRTC is focused on blocking signals from American AM broadcasters, due to the long range transmission ability of stations utilizing the AM band.

"Listening to US broadcasters will be illegal, subject to penalties outlined in the criminal code of Canada," said commission chair Charles Dalfen.

The CRTC came under heavy criticism for a recent decision that made receiving satellite signals from US providers illegal. The CRTC says it has no plans to jam satellite signals from US providers, at this time, due to the high cost involved, however, Mr. Dalfen indicated the relatively low cost of protecting Canadians from \'propaganda\' originating from the US on the AM band is "feasible and needed".

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one official from the CRTC told the Globe and Mail that blocking satellite signals from US providers may become a reality in the future.

The Globe and Mail quoted their source as saying, "If the federal government of Canada enters into an agreement with the US on the North American Missile Defense System, (commonly referred to as star wars), the CRTC will push to have these defense satellites piggy-back a device that can block commercial US TV satellite signals from entering Canada."

In related news, the CRTC refused to renew the broadcasting licence of CHOI-FM, a French-language commercial radio station in Quebec. The commission based their decision on offensive comments made by the hosts over the stationís airwaves.

The CRTC also granted permission for Canadian cable and satellite TV providers to broadcast Al Jazeera, an Arabic-language news and public affairs service.

"We have a duty to protect Canadians from broadcasters who promote hate, and provide offensive content. Our recent decision to deny a licence to a Quebec radio station, to block US AM radio broadcasters, and to allow the broadcast of the Arabic-language news service Al Jazeera, demonstrates our commitment to properly regulate the information Canadians are exposed to, said Charles Dalfen in a statement.

D 129
21st Jul 2004, 22:31
Automation might be able to replace pilots today ....

BUT - Automation can go wrong. A train can come to a sstop on the tracks - an aircraft can't.

So the pax will wan't to see someone up front.

In the next 20 years perhaps we might see SINGLE crew .... The poor soul only gets to fly the a/c if the automatics pack up. Then his/her mission is to land asap. Will he/she be in "practice" never having flown anything since his/her last check ?.

Mind you, if all the automatics pack up , how flyable will the next generation of a/c be ?. Triple redundancy sounds good - but perhaps the rats who chew the wires don't know this .....

D 129

22nd Jul 2004, 15:09
There are reasons there are two people flying the plane. It's not that one can't do the job, they are there to watch each other and in case one is incapacitated for some reason. You would make Airport 1977 the movie become a reality by having only one pilot.

22nd Jul 2004, 21:36
The Goaf,

If I may address your comments of "fact" a few pages back.

I would like to submit that my previous comment prior yours is also fact. Insight, experience, knowlege, and decision making skills are required to operate an AC to the level that no machine will have the capability to do (my guess) for hundreds of years.

Your facts are true. We are moving in an unending progress of new and better technologies that we develope to better our lives, to ensure our survival, and to understand the universe. No one is debating you facts.

HOWEVER, I can see you are not a Commercial Airline pilot as you do not understand the real reason why a pilot will always be controlling an aircaft. At least until your "facts" of technology produce an intelligent, thinking, computer equivalent to the decision making of a human.

Let me put this issue to you another way. We have amazing robotic technology now that is also jumping leaps and bounds every day. Even to the point where we can build unbeleivably complex machines, cars etc, one after another. But couple that with the amazing medical technologies we have today, I put to you, can we take a sick human being needing surgery, put him on a conveyor belt and have a surgery performed by robotics? Surely the technology exists to program billions of proceedures into a computer? The answer to this proposal is the same reason pilots will always be controlling an aircraft. Because, no two people, or situations are alike, you absolutely need the experience, knowlege, and insight of a sergeon to perform a sergery, as you also need a pilot to fly and manage an Aircraft. In addition, running an AC is also like running an Office. You have employees, all of which have their own issues, and sometimes problems. You have to manage them too. You ARE the office manager. Can a computer run an office, and deal with people?

Yes, the technology exist to put the AC on autopilot and even perform an Autoland. I know, because I do it all the time. But what happens if one of the gear doesn't come down? Or the hydraulic system fails? Or an Engine fails, or is on fire? Or, there is an obstruction on the runway the computer can't see? Or the autoland system fails, the autopilot, the navigation computer, the air data computer, the IRS computer, etc etc etc...Just look into the MEL of an Airbus and see how many things and situations can go wrong. And what about variables in airports, weather, traffic, passenger situations, etc, etc, etc,.....Getting my point?

You need a computer that can think on the level of an experience pilot to deal with the safty of an aircraft if you are to have a true pilotless aircraft, and that is a long way off. We are talking artificial intelligence. And that is sci-fi at this point. Anyone for Issac Asimov?

Without AI, one would have to basically put it on the runway yourself, then let it go, everything must stay out of its way, there must be no variables, and nothing must go wrong. Do the words "controlled experiment" mean anything to you? Because that is all a pilotless aircraft will be until AI exists, when and if that is possible.

One last point for you, it seems to me that with your "facts" of technology you aren't really making a point of a pilotless aircraft, but a remote controlled aircraft. The pilots will be on the ground, but they will still be there. And guess what, we already have those.


speed freek
22nd Jul 2004, 21:46
As has been mentioned earlier when the aircraft or systems fail, it has been the blokes up front who have saved the day. Perfect example was the Sioux City disaster. Although the hull was lost, if it wasn't for the crew a lot more people would have died that day. I truly doubt we will ever see a UAV carrying pax around.

unmanned transport
23rd Jul 2004, 00:36
It still amazes me to think that the 'Soviets', completed three orbits with their Buran shuttle, pilotless, and landed the craft on the rwy. centerline. That was way back in the eighties.

The USA is now in the process of mixing UAVs and air transports in the same controlled airspace.

23rd Jul 2004, 08:34
Yes, but it was passengerless, planned for months, ensured there was nothing that could possibly endanger the mission like bad weather, (etc and all that stuff I mentioned), and everyone and everything was arrange to be out of the way.

It was acceptable to fly it REMOTELY because there was no-one on board, so if there was a problem/malfunction they couldn't deal with, well they could just crash it with no loss of human life. Being the very high risk of the mission it made more sense to do it this way.

AND, I say again. Remote controlled airplanes are not new.

25th Jul 2004, 01:52
I will suggest a simple method for estimating when the roboticization of the skies is about to take place:

Count the number of dimensions.

Expect the process to follow accordingly.

The last 50 years have seen a fairly comprehensive automation of small-scale transport devices that (in freedom of movement) are essentially 1-dimensional , such as moving stairs and elevators.

Right now - and for the next 30 years - is the time that wide-ranging 1.3-dimensional devices, trains and similar rail-constrained machines, will become almost fully automated.

Next in line are the 2-dimensional vehicles such as personal automobiles, lorries, trams, etc. Much can be learned from this process that will pertain to automating air transport. (possibly including 'don't do it').

Then boats and ships. Sometimes high-value and complex to steer, but much slower than aircraft....and only moving in 2.3 dimensions.

Then, only then, the air transport system. At the far end (from here) of the learning curve.

25th Jul 2004, 10:11
I tend to agree with the doubters.

Have people fly aeroplanes??? Far too risky!!!

They might have heart attacks, forget things, misinterpret situations, make wrong decisions, decide to commit suicide, fail to communicate with each other, fail to understand or simply disregard procedures or regulations, be incapable of making best use of the resouces available, or simply fall out and refuse to cooperate with each other.

No, let's stick with automation. Its much more predictable.

John Farley
25th Jul 2004, 10:35

No, let's stick with automation. Its much more predictable.

You are right there!


Sultan Ismail
27th Jul 2004, 08:59
D 129 says the pax will want to see someone up front

747Focal says 2 pilots are there

How do they know?

The doors are locked, the pax don't get to see who's behind the door.

On my last trip just before push back a voice declaring himself "the Captain" announced our flight time would be 9 hours and 36 minutes and there would be a smooth flight all the way.

Some 9 hours and a bit later another voice declaring himself "the First Officer", stated we were starting our descent and it was raining at our destination.

I do wonder if the "Captain" is still in Jo'burg, and the "First Officer" never left Kuala Lumpur.

27th Jul 2004, 11:48
One good thing about having the operators on board at the pointy end.... it does inspire a sobering sense of cause and effect.

27th Jul 2004, 15:29
Sultan Ismail,

Since I am in First Class all the time, I count the pilots as they enter the Flight Deck and make sure neither of them sneak off. :p

Now if what you are saying is that if the PAX did not know there was nobody up there it would make no difference. If I got off an airplane and found out there had been no pilots up there quite a few of the airline employees would feel the brunt of my foot before airport security got hold of me. :}

27th Jul 2004, 16:20
747Focal - with your affinity to the aircraft of your username, are you sure that being in First Class on the 747, you are not just seeing two stooges - or recently remployed pilots - climb into the First Class wardrobe??!

27th Jul 2004, 16:54

I usually take a peak through the curtain.

28th Jul 2004, 00:55
Keith Williams, John Farley,

Ok... I will go along with you. Actually, I agree, it may happen sometime down the road...but that is a long time off. When we have the capability to have driverless cars on the ashphalt roads that can handle every possible situation that may happen...that is when we will have pilotless airplanes!!

You guys can agree all you want...automated commercial flights are not .. ARE NOT going to happen for a long long time. The technology for a remote control airplane exists....but then that just means it is piloted from the ground. That is not a "pilotless aircraft". And why would anyone get on an aircraft where the pilots own ass isn't on board too?

Sorry, but you guys are living in the future....think you've seen I, robot too many times!!!

1st Aug 2004, 21:34
More on the dangers of impending mindless doom as proposed by unmanned transport here:-

Rethinking the role of Human Pilots (http://www.pprune.org/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=113380)

...haven't heard anything from him since, perhaps he's been replaced by a new, improved model.

4th Aug 2004, 01:58
We have already seen technology remove the radio operator, navigator and flight engineer. The co-pilot will be next to go and that is inevitable. Present Airbus aircraft aren't far off not actually requiring any manual input. It would only take the application of a small amount of already existing technology to make them fully automatic. Universal ADSB will soon be with us, starting the journey towards the elimination of human beings from the ATC loop. But hold on a minute! Strictly speaking ocean going cargo ships could have dispensed with human crews at least twenty years ago, they could proceed on a voyage automatically and only have a pilot aboard for docking manouvres. As far as I'm aware no ships have yet put to sea without human beings aboard. I wonder why?

The problem is that aircraft operate in a dynamic environment - or to put it in layman's terms the weather is changeable - so we still need a human being to supervise the proceedings. It will be a long time before the human Captain disappears, even if the skipper of a future 1500 passenger super A380 spends most of his time entertaining the first class passengers to dinner at his table, while his First Officer restlessly paces the silent bridge keeping a lookout for icebergs...

4th Aug 2004, 15:56
It tickles me all this talk of "it will land at the nearest suitable airport" The point is how it will handle the combination of Wx, unserviceable equipment on the ground and on the AC, traffic overload, company interests, pax convenience... How much would it cost to fit all these airports to be able to accept an unmaned AC at short notice (or no notice). If the signal is jammed presumably all the AC in that airspace will suddenly be heading independently to their "nearest suitable airport" how and who would sort out the ensuing traffic caos.

Towards the beggining of this thread somebody was told that a 777 would land in Indonesia in six more hours without further imput. This assumed that the rwy in use stays the same, there are no delays and no conflicts with other traffic, there is no adverse wx on route, the descent winds are as planed, the landing is done flaps up and gear up... the list goes on.

I remember that a few months ago there was a competition in the US where unmaned vehicles (cars and one motorbike as I recall) had to negotiate a 20mile course through the desert. Not one finished the course. Remember, they did not have to contend with Wx, traffic....they operated in 2 dimensional environment. And they did not have to be fail operational.

The crash rate of existing unmaned vehicles is phenomenal. Since they are quite rear, military and small they normally crash out of sight. How many unmaned cargo ac would need to crash into populated areas to discredit the whole concept?

It will happen in the end since time is long and who knows, time travel might happen... but not for a long, long time.

4th Aug 2004, 16:03
found in "FlightInternational", funny, isn't it?


Job Title: Unmanned Air Vehicle Pilot
Region: UK
Company: QinetiQ
Salary: £31,000 + benefits
Position type: Permanent
Posted: Monday 26 July 2004
Job type(s): Flight crew
Description: QinetiQ is Europe's leading defence and security technology company. All that we do builds on our proud heritage of advancing the boundaries of innovation through the application of sound thinking and groundbreaking technology. Our ongoing relationship with the MoD touches many different areas. Not least among these is our work with Unmanned Air Vehicles

5th Aug 2004, 01:13
I remember that a few months ago there was a competition in the US where unmaned vehicles (cars and one motorbike as I recall) had to negotiate a 20mile course through the desert. Not one finished the course. Remember, they did not have to contend with Wx, traffic....they operated in 2 dimensional environment. And they did not have to be fail operational.

An event of this sort did occur recently, promoted by DARPA and populated by self-financed competitors from colleges and aspiring small companies - plus a few teams of pub-crawlers. The machines entered were cribbed together on volunteer labor with things one finds 'around the house', so the poor showing of most vehicles was predictable.

Without intending any slight, I think you really sell short the whole concept regieme of autonomous vehicles by relying on such highly visible amateur competitions as proof of current capability.

Please consider the following additional thoughts:

A. Neither military nor industry publish press releases about their "best" stuff unless some great incentive prompts them to do so. Personally I would assume that the state of the art is about 15-20 years ahead of what college engineering students are building as class projects.

B. Nothing about fully implemented autonomous vehicle technology is either simple or cheap. The costs for very limited, but complete & fieldable, systems range from hundreds-of-millions to billions of $$.

Sultan Ismail
5th Aug 2004, 13:36

Just to bring you upto speed, Kuala Lumpur is in Malaysia.

I assumed the aircraft would have been able to work that one out.

And what about the runway in use, or the winds and the other aircraft, suitable advances in ATIS and TCAS and the other gizmo's that any PC games author can think up will ensure that the aircraft gets where its going, lands and taxies to the gate.

We're going that way, and we're going there fast.

5th Aug 2004, 15:04
Sultan Ismail,

Maybe for military aircraft that hunt Osama, but never with passengers.

Old Smokey
5th Aug 2004, 15:35
Sultan Ismail,

If you are the same Sultan Ismail who made a previous post about your MAS B777 flight that required no further pilot input, may I suggest that you direct your future posts to the Spotters forum. Most of us take this topic quite seriously, and ill informed idiotic comment is out of place in a serious forum.

I fly the B777 (not with MAS), and a later version of the pre 9/11 that you observed at that. I cannot conceive of any flight in a B777, given it's current state of development, that could proceed beyond brakes release at the departure terminal without CONSIDERABLE pilot input. Maybe MAS has a secret new version of the B777 that even Boeing don't know about. Was that it demonstrating the new automated MAS rotation technique that we saw so graphically in recent posts from Europe?

I am one of the 'traitors to my profession' who has an active part in software programming for present generation aircraft. This is LOW LOW Tech stuff, and many software generations away from capabilities approaching that for full automation in all aspects. The present, and the next generation of software does not come close. For heaven's sake, if Boeing / Rolls Royce cannot build a relatively simple system such as Auto Anti-Ice (they did, but aircraft and engines continued to ice up), we have a lot to worry about.

In previous years my failure management was directed at aircraft hardware, engines etc. Now my failure management is directed towards FMC / Satcom / GPS navigation failures etc. because this stuff is still relatively Low Tech - except maybe in the third world.

Fully automated passenger flights WILL come, but at nowhere near the pace you suggest. Until it does, please keep your uninformed comment elsewhere - some poor misguided fool might believe it.

23rd Aug 2004, 07:39
Pilotless pax aircraft?.....It will never happen....Why?

1. Pilotless aircraft crash. Check the stats for UAV systems on the web. They are complex flying systems which also include the ground control station and the associated RF links.....What happens if the ground control station is hijacked, or a spurious uplink message is sent?.... Aside from that, there are many system type failures that could occur.....

2. Pilots onboard on aircraft have a self preservation interest. Pax like that feature. It gives them confidence in flying safety.

3. Controlling/monitoring a pilotless aircraft will require an uplink/downlink system. The RF spectrum bandwidth is gradually being eaten away by other commercial interests, and this is a real limitation to unmanned systems at this time. It won't get better.

4. The development costs will be high in order to provide the level of reliability required for pax operations. Think about certification of such systems....It goes a lot further than what is covered in FAR Part 25.



10th Apr 2006, 15:19
Greetings all,

Could I ask any Pilots to fill out a short survey regarding Pilotless Commercial Aircraft. Its for my honours project.
Scary concept I know, but its the only topic that the Computing dept let me do thats related to aviation.

Here the link:

Any help would be great! The sooner the better.

Many thanks in advance


P.S. I have posted this on another thread aswell, but I think that one has been closed. Apologies if you have already seen this post.