NASA has been expanding its operations to include aviation engineering for quite some time.
Its goal is to develop unmanned planes that require little human participation outside of programming and development.
To do this, it’s working with Xwing, part of its Unmanned Aircraft System program, and the Federal Aviation Administration to get up to speed with certifications. That’s the governmental body with powers to regulate all aspects of civil aviation in the US.
While Xwing and NASA fine-tune their systems and wait for certification, Xwing’s website boasts that the “future of aviation” is “closer than you think”, and it’s not wrong.
The company unveiled its first demo flight on Thursday.
While people were on board the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, none of them were piloting the aircraft.
The aerospace company showed off its autonomous tech from take-off to landing during multiple flights over the Bay from its hangar east of San Francisco. For each flight, two to three passengers were on board, including a back-up pilot.
That back-up pilot was a necessary precaution. If that aircraft stopped working, crashing into San Francisco, obtaining certification would have become significantly more difficult.
It’s just not a good look.
Here’s some background on the demo and a glimpse of the flight:
The plan is to use these automated planes for cargo or humanitarian trips.
The company plans to convert planes with its system and then remote operators will supervise the flights alongside air traffic controllers. The company says an Xwing retrofitted plane is designed to take off, navigate, and land on its own.
Watch it do that:
While I’m impressed by the science of it all, I’m not so keen on the idea of trusting a technology-driven aircraft not to malfunction, before falling out of the sky with me in it.
There’s something to be said for the problem-solving skills of a human pilot behind the controls.
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