Aurora Flight Sciences this week revealed that it has been flying an “optionally manned” general aviation aircraft that can do autonomous takeoff and landings for the past three months just outside of Washington DC. Pictured below is Aurora’s Cessna 337 “Chiron” testbed.
Though the object of project was to prove out the ability to deliver fully autonomous takeoffs and landings for Aurora’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) programs, particularly the Orion, it’s clear that the same low-cost technology could do wonders for the safety of light aircraft with humans on board.
In fact, humans were on board the highly modified 1967 Cessna 337 Skymaster (or “Huff ‘n’ Puff” if you like), but only to take control if the technology failed, which it did not.
“Most current UAVs, such as Predator, have a pilot “in the loop” for takeoff and landing,” says Aurora. “Department of Defence studies have identified this approach as a major source of UAV accidents and losses.”
If the price is right, seems like a good solution for manned aviation as well….