BAE Systems has announced that, as part of collaborative efforts across the UK to assess how autonomous air vehicles could be integrated into UK airspace, the company has begun a new phase of unmanned aircraft technology trials using a Jetstream 31 as a ‘flying testbed’ which flies itself whilst having pilots on board who could take control at any time. The trials are being conducted from the Company’s military aircraft engineering and manufacturing facility in Warton, Lancashire, UK.
A pilot and co-pilot are in control for take-off and landing – as it is yet to be fully autonomous but once airborne and in controlled airspace the Jetstream flies itself. On the ground a flight test observer and a unmanned air vehicle commander – who is a fully licensed pilot for these trials – are monitoring the flights via satellite communications.
The testbed contains an aircraft identification antennae which detects other aircraft’s transponder signals as well as a cockpit mounted camera acting as an ‘electronic eye’. This links to the aircraft’s computer systems and enables the Jetstream to ‘see’ potential hazards even if no signals are being emitted.
The “electronic eye” of the Jetstream can also recognize different cloud types and, if needed, plot a course that allows evasive action from challenging weather conditions.