Workers at BAE Systems’ site in Warton have made another step forward in the evolution of flight.
The ASTRAEA team has flown an unmanned aircraft in UK airspace for the first time, proving that the technology of the future can be safe.
A BAE Systems Jetstream research aircraft, specially adapted to fly in pilotless mode, successfully completed a 500 mile trip from Warton to Inverness.
It was under the command of a ground based pilot and control of the National Air Traffic Control Services’ air traffic controllers.
On board were two pilots but they handed over control of the Jetstream once airborne and the aircraft was flown by a pilot on the ground at Warton.
The aircraft is packed with computers and sensory equipment developed in the £62m Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation & Assessment (ASTRAEA) programme in which BAE is a major partner.
In the future, unmanned air vehicles could operate routinely in civilian airspace as opposed to military use, for example as a quicker way of transporting medical supplies to hospitals.
They can, if necessary, take their own decisions to avoid other aircraft in crowded airspace.
Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal, from BAE Systems and Programme Director for ASTRAEA, said: “Simply put, I believe we are writing a new chapter in aviation history.”
He said it was as significant development as the introduction of the jet engine to civil aviation.
He added: “The work being done here today and hopefully continued into the next phase of the ASTRAEA programme, will likely impact all of us in the next five, 10, 20 years as unmanned aircraft and associated technology develop and become a part of everyday life.”