Evolution. When the flight engineer was kicked out of airliner cockpits, some saw it as a dangerous move. But then came the two-engine long haulers, and the reaction was similar. Now evolution is being seen in the unmanned air systems (UAS) world.
The external pilot, the guy who controlled takeoff and landing, is no longer there – at least not in the advanced UAS made by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the company with some of the most advanced examples in the market.
Automatic takeoff and landing (ATOL) is now a standard feature in all medium and large UAS made by the Israeli company. It is installed, it is operational and it is combat proven.
The takeoff sequence and the landing are performed by pressing buttons in the control station that receives the real-time data from the UAS’s payload.
IAI’s ATOL is based on differential GPS, and on a set of reflectors attached to the wings and a laser system on the runway. The lasers are there in case the GPS is jammed by the enemy.
When it comes to the big UAS, like the Heron, a camera is located on the tail and allows the controllers in the station to have an “outside world” picture, like a pilot has. This allows the controllers to abort takeoff when something is wrong.
Evolution. It’s here, it’s fast and it may, as in this case, be very surprising.