'Milestone' journey as plane makes first flight without pilot
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Featured Image Credit: FOX Business
A cargo plane has made its first successful trip without a pilot or any other crew on board, creating a 'monumental aviation achievement'.
On 21 November, a Cessna 208B Caravan plane took off from Hollister Municipal Airport in San Benito County, California.
While over 150 flights typically take off from the airport every day, as per AirNav.com, this one was special as the cargo plane had no pilot on board. Prepare for take off:
The total flight time came in at around 12 minutes, with the plane doing a circle in the air and then returning to the airport.
The plane was designed and manufactured by Textron Aviation Inc, which worked in collaboration with the aircraft automation company Reliable Robotics who announced the 'significant milestone' earlier this week on Wednesday (6 December) calling it 'a first for aviation'.
Reliable Robots has also been working on remote piloting alongside the US Air Force since 2021 and is a member of global aviation services company ASL Aviation Holdings's CargoVision forum, which looks into new aviation technologies.
While no pilot was physically on board the flight, a remote pilot was on hand to supervise from 'Reliable's control center 50 miles away,' the company states via a Business Wire press release.
Reliable Robotics CEO Robert Rose told the San Francisco Chronicle that, to his knowledge, the successful un-piloted flight of the cargo plane is the first of its kind for a private company - the military already using unmanned aircraft systems.
But why is the idea of having a non-piloted cargo plane so important?
Well, Reliable Robotics explains such an aircraft 'improves safety' by 'fully automating the aircraft through all phases of operation including taxi, takeoff and landing'.
It continues: "Reliable’s system is aircraft agnostic and utilizes multiple layers of redundancy and advanced navigation technology to achieve the levels of integrity and reliability necessary for uncrewed flight.
"The system will prevent controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) and loss of control in flight (LOC-I), which account for the majority of fatal aviation accidents."
It also adds: "The Caravan, and other regional cargo aircraft like it, serve an essential role connecting communities and businesses across the United States and around the globe. With a useful load of over 3,000 pounds, and a take-off performance to operate from shorter runways, these aircraft deliver time-sensitive shipments to many places that would otherwise not have next-day or same-day service. Remote piloting will allow even more areas to benefit from this critical service."
Senior Vice President of Engineering and Programs, Textron Aviation, Chris Hearne, said as per Business Wire: "Textron Aviation is committed to delivering continuous aviation improvements and our relationship with Reliable Robotics advances this work.
"Reliable’s successful flight of an uncrewed Cessna 208 Caravan represents a milestone for the industry in bringing new technology to aviation."
AFWERX Director and Chief Commercialization Officer for the Department of the Air Force, Colonel Elliott Leigh said, as per Fox Business: "This monumental aviation achievement is a great example of how AFWERX accelerates agile and affordable capability transitions for the world's greatest Air Force.
"This milestone accelerates dual-use un-crewed flight opportunities, increasing aviation safety and enabling us to bring a broad range of autonomous military capabilities into denied environments."