Autonomous passenger aircraft completes test flights over populated US regions

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Reliable Robotics, a provider of autonomous flight technology, has announced that it has completed successful test flights of remote-piloted passenger airplanes in US airspace.

In the first flight, the pilot pressed a button on a remote user interface and the unmanned four passenger Cessna 172 Skyhawk (C172) automatically taxied, took off, and landed. Most recently, the company demonstrated fully automated remote landing of a larger aircraft, the Cessna 208 Caravan (C208), capable of carrying 14 passengers.

Reliable Robotics integrated its autonomous platform onto the 2,550 lb C172. It began the C172 programme in January 2018 and completed fully automated gate-to-gate operation before the end of that year. Extensive system safety analysis and testing was conducted prior to the unmanned test flight in September 2019.

According to Reliable Robotics, this marked the first time a privately funded company operated a passenger airplane of this type with no pilot on board over a populated region, and was a key step in certifying the autonomous platform for repeated, safe civil use on certified aircraft.

“We thoroughly tested every aspect of our system in simulation and conducted rigorous safety checks before operating the aircraft without a pilot on board and are now proud to share what we’ve been working on,” said Robert Rose, co-founder and CEO of Reliable Robotics.

“By bringing advanced automation to aviation, we will deliver higher safety, reliability and convenience for cargo operators and eventually for passengers.”

The company designed and built a proprietary autonomous platform that can be applied to any fixed-wing aircraft. The platform includes avionics, software, mechanisms, a communications system, remote command interfaces, along with a backup system that has the capability to take over if needed.

Following the C172 programme, it was adapted for use on the larger C208. Reliable Robotics is now working with the Federal Aviation Administration on incrementally bringing the technology to market, having already demonstrated automated landing on the C208 last month.