BOEING JUST GOT into the autonomous aviation game, with the goal of building jetliners that fly themselves, no pilots required. “The basic building blocks of the technology clearly are available,” Mike Sinnett, Boeing’s vice president of product development, said ahead of the Paris Airshow.
An outfit called Aurora Flight Sciences is trumpeting the fact that one of its robots has successfully landed a simulated Boeing 737. Aviation-savvy readers may well shrug upon learning that news, because robots – or at least auto-landing systems – land planes all the time and have done so for decades.
ON JUNE 1st 2009, an Air France airliner flew into a mid-Atlantic storm. Ice began forming in the sensors used by the aircraft to measure its airspeed, depriving the autopilot of that vital data. So, by design, the machine switched itself off and ceded control to the pilots.
THE idea of a drone—an aircraft designed from scratch to be pilotless—is now familiar. But what if you want to make pilotless a plane you already possess?
Air forces, particularly America’s, sometimes do this with obsolete craft that they wish to fly for target practice. The desire for pilotlessness, though, now goes way beyond the ability to take pot shots at redundant F-16s.