Autonomous flight developer Reliable Robotics has secured “military airworthiness approval” to begin using its Cessna 208 Caravan to demonstrate the potential of pilotless flight to the US Air Force (USAF).
To that end, the start-up said on 31 January that it had recently completed a “unique demo of its dual-use control station – built for civil certification and flexible for military deployment”.
“The team landed, pulled the equipment out of the cargo pod, quickly set up in under 20 minutes and remotely operated an automated mission over 120 miles away for the United States Air Force,” Reliable says.
Reliable did not respond to a query regarding the date and location of the demonstration flight.
The company’s upcoming flight-testing regimen will be part of the service’s Autonomy Prime programme, which explores potential military applications for autonomous aircraft. Autonomy Prime is administered by the USAF’s AFWERX technology incubator.
“This approval signifies a deeper level of engagement with the Department of Defense by enabling Reliable to demonstrate dual-use automated flight capabilities for military use cases, including cargo missions,” the company says.
The USAF granted Reliable’s “always-on autopilot” an airworthiness approval following safety, maintenance and operational evaluations. Reliable calls the approval a “key milestone” in the third phase of its Small Business Innovation Research programme.
Reliable is “developing exciting automation technologies through robust engineering and flight test campaigns”, says Hank Griffiths, AFWERX’s airworthiness and test lead. “The technology is maturing rapidly, and this airworthiness approval for a certified aircraft retrofitted with an autonomous flight system provides significant opportunities for the military.”
Competitor and fellow Bay Area start-up Xwing is also demonstrating autonomous flight technology for the USAF. That firm recently operated an autonomous cargo flight for air force leaders using its modified Cessna Grand Caravan.