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Fly the rant-free, pilot-free skies - pilote, pilota

Fly the rant-free, pilot-free skies

Don’t worry about the mental stability of your pilot — there might not be one in the future. Test flights of an autonomous jet are taking off now in the UK. That’s a good thing as traveling by air is getting tough in these politically tense times. Not only are you at risk from fellow passengers going off on a rant – but even the pilot might use the airplane’s PA system as a weapon of ear destruction.

This just happened to some unlucky passengers on United Airlines Flight 455 as the scheduled pilot let loose a barrage of personal commentary about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and the pilot’s own upcoming divorce. And some of these passengers decided they would rather get off the plane than continue with the replacement pilot.

Welcome to the pilot-free skies

But, BAE Systems – the aeronautics and defense giant – has great news for nervous flyers. They are test flying an autonomous Jetstream 31 above the United Kingdom to see how well these types of aircraft can be integrated to the normal, pilot-directed streams of air traffic. The big idea here is that BAE wants to see what can fly autonomously overhead while Apple, Uber, Tesla, and Delphi can do vehicles on the ground.

Could this be a positive move for passengers? Just think, you would not have to worry about having a mentally unhinged pilot going on a rant or flying the aircraft into a mountainside. Could this help make the heavens a more peaceful place? It seems that most other remote controlled flight ideas seem to center around drones delivering explosive packages for the military. Maybe not, as BAE is also developing those options.

Much more than a car with wings

BAE’s Jetstream 31 has some similarities and differences with current autonomous car testing. First the differences. Forget about the LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging devices) mounted on the top of the vehicle, this aircraft gets its directions from satellites and an on-board electronic eye that recognizes clouds and weather type. Put the two together and this plane has the wherewithal to plot an alternative course around the dangerous weather conditions. It is also no lone wolf as the plane has an antenna looking out for transponder signals from other aircraft and is beeping out its own presence. For similarities with lowly automobiles, this plane also flies with a pilot ready to grab the controls if needed. A comforting thought indeed.

It’s all up in the air

BAE plans to have a total of  17 test flights as they check out the ability of autonomous flying based on this novel satellite-camera connection. So far, the test flights have been through non-congested airspace above Scotland. While the pilot and co-pilot are in control for take-offs and landing – once airborne and at the selected cruising altitude is reached, the plane flies itself. No word yet about other security measures. Nobody is even thinking about calling this the IoP (Internet of Planes).

“The trials are an exciting time and will give us technology options that could be applied to our own manned and unmanned aircraft as well potentially enabling us to take some new unmanned aircraft technologies to market,” stated Maureen Mccue, BAE Systems’ Head of Research and Technology for the military aircraft and information business on the company website.

Now there. Aren’t you feeling relaxed?

But I wonder, what happens when these super AI-powered, camera-enhanced, satellite-directed devices get upset at the two-legged, sulfur and methane emitting creatures messing up the interior of their aircraft? That will be a rant of epic proportions. Don’t worry. Just buckle your seatbelt and prepare for liftoff.


How would you feel if you’d know the airplane of your choice would fly autonomously? Would you board it? Would you feel safe and secure? Let us know in the comments below!

This post is also available in: FrenchItalian

As a PR Consultant and journalist, Frink has covered IT security issues for a number of security software firms, as well as provided reviews and insight on the beer and automotive industries (but usually not at the same time). Otherwise, he’s known for making a great bowl of popcorn and extraordinary messes in a kitchen.