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Robot aircraft take to British skies

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Robot aircraft take to British skies

Old 6th Dec 2016, 15:22
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Robot aircraft take to British skies

From the BBC news web site today (please don't shoot the messenger)

Robot aircraft take to British skies - BBC News

Robot aircraft are to be tested in UK airspace to help refine systems that control autonomous planes.
BAE said it would be carrying out 17 flights, using a converted Jetstream 31 capable of flying itself.
Human pilots will handle take-off and landing, but the craft will be autonomous as it navigates 300 miles (482km) from Lancashire to Inverness.
The trial will assess piloting software as well as sensor systems that monitor clouds and other aircraft.
To pilot itself, the Jetstream aircraft will use data from satellites as well as on-board identification systems that log radio signals broadcast by transponders on other planes.
In addition, the Jetstream is fitted with a camera that can see other air users even if they are not emitting warning signals.
This camera also surveys the skies around the craft to spot bad weather or heavy cloud, allowing the aircraft to adjust its route to avoid turbulence and other "challenging conditions".
On its autonomous flight, the aircraft will follow a route through non-congested airspace at an altitude of about 15,000ft (4.6km).
The journey is expected to take about 90 minutes.
Maureen McCue, head of BAE's research and technology, said the trials were "exciting" and it was working with the UK's National Air Traffic Services to determine how well the autonomous aircraft handled sharing the skies with human-piloted craft.
"We are working towards the possibility of flying our own unmanned systems in a highly controlled environment in the UK," she said.
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Old 6th Dec 2016, 15:46
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I thought I read that story a couple of years ago.
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Old 6th Dec 2016, 16:07
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Originally Posted by c52 View Post
I thought I read that story a couple of years ago.
Yes and no. The J31 first flew under control from the ground more than 3 years ago:

Pilotless flight trialled in UK shared airspace


But this time around, the aircraft is going to be doing its own thing.
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Old 6th Dec 2016, 16:15
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Ironic that on the same day the Bank of England Chief Economist warns that robotics will cost the UK 15 million jobs!
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Old 6th Dec 2016, 23:36
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Can it deal with an engine failure?
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Old 7th Dec 2016, 00:41
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Does it respond to TCAS?
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Old 7th Dec 2016, 00:45
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I believe that single engine failure would be towards the lower end of difficulty for this type of planned operation
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Old 7th Dec 2016, 08:13
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Originally Posted by G-CPTN View Post
Does it respond to TCAS?
From the article linked in the first post:

"To pilot itself, the Jetstream aircraft will use data from satellites as well as on-board identification systems that log radio signals broadcast by transponders on other planes."

Though it's not clear from that whether the aircraft itself will respond to a TCAS RA, or the onboard monitoring pilots will do so. There's no suggestion that the aircraft will be flying without TCAS, or that RAs will be disregarded.
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Old 7th Dec 2016, 14:52
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c52

I thought I read that story a couple of years ago.
You probably did - I first read about this project maybe 6-7 years ago and since then the story has reappeared in the mainstream press several times - I think as the project progresses occasionally somebody makes a decision to raise it's profile and pushes out a press release..maybe just for PR reasons, might also be for funding purposes, who knows?.

From wiki ( therefore usual caveats apply).

"In July 2008, a BAE Systems team that included Cranfield Aerospace and the National Flight Laboratory Centre at Cranfield University achieved a major breakthrough in unmanned air systems technology. The team flew a series of missions, totalling 800 mi (1,290 km), in a specially modified Jetstream 31 (G-BWWW) without any human intervention, This was the first time such an undertaking had been achieved. " my emphasis

Not sure how autonomous this Jetstream really is but of course an automated capability to deal with the yaw associated with engine failures, and/or TCAS avoidance handled by the the autopilot are features already in service on some types, so one would hope the research team are ahead of the game on those items.

Last edited by wiggy; 7th Dec 2016 at 16:52.
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Old 7th Dec 2016, 16:50
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The project has indeed been in existence for several years. Here's the 2010 press release from which that unattributed Wikipedia quote comes:

Cranfield Aerospace | BAE Systems Jetstream 31 Sensor Suite

To clarify any confusion about what is and isn't new, the current phase of the Astraea project will be the first time the aircraft has flown autonomously (i.e. not under the control of a pilot) in shared civil airspace.

The 2013 interview with BAE's Programme Director that I linked in my previous post is worth listening to, including discussion of the (then) ground-based pilot who "flew" the Jetstream on previous flights between Warton and Inverness.
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