Pilotless aircraft to return to Fylde skies

BAE Systems Jetstream, used for test flights on the pilotless aircraft programme
BAE Systems Jetstream, used for test flights on the pilotless aircraft programme
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Engineers at BAE Systems’ Warton site are set to carry out a new set of pilotless plane tests.

The ground-breaking unmanned aircraft technology trials will use a Jetstream 31 as a flying testbed flying out of Warton.

Two pilots will be on board for safety, take-off and landing – but once airborne and in controlled airspace the Jetstream will fly 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 latest trials are self-funded by BAE Systems at a cost of around £400,000 and build on the findings of the ASTRAEA (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment) Research and Development programme which ran from 2008-2013.

The aircraft will be testing new sensing technologies including aircraft and cloud avoidance using only camera input rather than radar.

The cockpit mounted “eye” camera can also recognise different cloud formations so the aircraft can avoid bad weather if necessary.

Maureen Mccue, BAE Systems’ Head of Research and Technology for the military aircraft and information business said: “Our priority as always is to demonstrate the safe and effective operation of autonomous systems and together with NATS we are working towards the possibility of flying our own unmanned systems in a highly controlled environment in the UK.

“The trials are an exciting time and will give us technology options that could be applied to our own manned and unmanned aircraft as well potentially enabling us to take some new unmanned aircraft technologies to market.”

BAE Systems has developed an extensive unmanned air portfolio over the past two decades. It is working on a joint Future Combat Air System programme with Dassault of France in an £1.5bn programme expected to lead to the production of operational demonstrators.

With the Ministry of Defence, and other engineering organisations, BAE Systems has also designed and manufactured Taranis – an unmanned combat aircraft demonstrator – currently the UK’s most technologically advanced aircraft