Scientists and engineers at BAE Systems have begun another tranche of ground-breaking unmanned aircraft technology trials.
The defence giant is using a Jetstream 31 as a “flying testbed” .
The plane flies itself, whilst having pilots on board who could take control at any time.
The trials are being conducted from the company’s military air and information facility in Warton.
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.
BAE Systems has already designed and manufactured Taranis – an unmanned combat aircraft demonstrator – which is currently the UK’s most technologically advanced aircraft.
The new trials involve a series of 17 flights, during which BAE Systems’ engineers aim to prove the capability, maturity and safe operation of autonomous air technologies controlled by a satellite-communications based link.
Also being tested are further developments of sensing technologies – including aircraft and cloud avoidance using only camera input rather than radar. The results of the trials will inform the direction of the Company’s future unmanned aircraft programme and the suitability of testing unmanned aircraft in the UK.
In the near future these unmanned aircraft technologies may also be brought to market for use in commercial and military aircraft as aids to the existing crew
Maureen Mccue, BAE Systems’ Head of Research and Technology for the military air 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.”