NASA has contracted with autonomous aviation company Xwing to support the development of safety systems for pilotless aircraft.

Under the three-year agreement, Xwing will share data gathered from its flight and ground operations in the US National Airspace System (NAS), in addition to algorithms and expertise on increasingly autonomous flight systems, XWing said on 13 October.

Aircraft 5

Source: Xwing

Xwing’s Cessna 208B Grand Caravan test aircraft for its Autoflight System 20 August 2020

“Our team is excited to support this critical work at NASA to ensure autonomous systems are safely able to operate in the NAS,” says Jesse Kallman, vice-president of commercialisation and strategy at Xwing. “Both the data we provide to NASA and data we receive will enable us each to advance our capabilities and build a more robust safety case for the technology.”

Researchers with NASA’s System-Wide Safety Project (SWS) will use the data to evaluate the risks of the emerging field of Advanced Air Mobility, Xwing says. The researchers will also work to develop new standards for infrastructure and pilot certification.

“NASA focuses its research and technology transfers to have real impact, and this partnership will help NASA understand the real-world challenges that industry is facing,” says SWS project manager Misty Davies. “Emerging aviation relies heavily on advanced automation to ensure safety. We are excited to partner with companies like Xwing who are working to bring novel, safe aviation opportunities to the American public.”

Researchers will seek to identify hazards related to runway detection for vision-based landing and “evaluate techniques and assurance processes related to aircraft localization” and GPS enhancement, Xwing says. NASA’s Areonautics Research Institute will also work to understand supply-chain issues that prevent the use of autonomous aviation systems and affect operational safety.

In 2021, San Fransisco-based Xwing partnered with Textron Aviation – parent of turboprop manufacturers Beechcraft and Cessna – to integrate “autoflight technologies into existing and future aircraft”, with an eye on launching pilotless cargo flights. 

At that time, Xwing completed a gate-to-gate demonstration flight of a Cessna Caravan retrofitted with its autonomous flight technology. The company is also a Part 135 cargo carrier that uses unmodified aircraft, operating more than 400 weekly flights for UPS, it adds.