Flying cars – or personal aircraft anyway – have moved a step nearer, as ongoing trials using robot aeroplanes and next-gen air traffic equipment in America are said to offer the option of “reduced crews” on commercial cargo flights.
US aerospace firm GE Aviation has been participating in joint trials with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) aimed at letting unmanned aircraft fly safely in civil controlled airspace, Flight International reports. An early option offered by the technology is the prospect of reduction from two pilots to one on commercial cargo flights.
The tests involved passing of traffic-control instructions to a Shadow roboplane, a type normally used by the US Army in warzones where civil rules and traffic aren’t an issue. Generally, air-traffic controllers give instructions to pilots by voice: nowadays, rather than translating these instructions into action via joysticks, throttles etc the pilot will simply key commands into an automated flight management system (FMS).
The next logical step is to remove the needless waste of bandwidth inherent in voice comms and the error potential and delay that comes with an on-board human pilot and his fingers. Orders can be passed directly to the FMS – in this case, part of the Shadow’s ground control station rather than on board, but with the same effect on the craft’s manoeuvring.